Motor coaches across the country take an estimated 700 million trips annually, most of those in the summer months. In Florida, it’s more of a year-round thing, as the winter weather is often more forgiving.
But these vehicles – particularly commercial tour buses – have been known to cause devastating, high-profile accidents with severe injuries and multiple deaths.
Now, the U.S. Senate is preparing to debate a bill that would remove from public scrutiny key safety rating information regarding motor coach carriers. It’s part of a larger highway bill, with the secrecy provision largely divided along party lines. Democrats are vowing to remove the secrecy provision, arguing the public has a right to know whether a carrier is safe. Republicans argue the current rating system is inaccurate and unfair to carriers.
The bill as a whole was approved recently by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Highway safety advocates describe the provision to remove public access to motor coach safety ratings as anti-safety and pro-industry.
Perhaps even more concerning, they say, is the part of the bill that would allow drivers as young as 18 to operate commercial trucks on the interstate. Currently, drivers have to be 21 in order to drive commercial trucks and vehicles that travel interstate.
It’s worth noting that in 2013, drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 had a fatal car crash rate involvement that was 66 percent higher per 100,000 drivers than those who were over the age of 21. That’s according to the Transportation Department’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.
Apparently, there is a shortage of truck drivers, and many big-box retailers and grocery stores fear deliveries may not be timely made. But is the answer to put younger, riskier drivers on the road?
With regard to motor coach safety ratings, these were put in place by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration following a series of particularly horrific crashes. One in 2011 in New York on Interstate 95 left 15 people dead and 17 more seriously injured. That prompted the FMCSA to take a more active role in shutting down motor coach companies that had poor safety records. The following spring after that accident, the federal regulator shut down 26 bus companies in a single month. Also as part of the ongoing effort, the agency established a rating system that scores carriers on various categories from 0 to 100. Low scores indicate a better rating.
These ratings cover things like:
- Hours-of-service compliance
- Vehicle maintenance compliance
- Reports of DUI or impaired driving
- Driver fitness reports
- Unsafe driving incidents
The American Bus Association insists these ratings aren’t fair because it’s not accurately displayed and not fully complete. There are complaints that the companies used most frequently are inspected more often, while others receive lesser scrutiny.
Under the new law, the agency’s analytic scores would remain concealed from the public, but individual inspection reports would not. While the latter is good to have, it’s really the analytic reports that can best help the public make sense of what they are reading, and how a given company compares to others.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Motor coach safety info may be kept secret, July 20, 2015, By Brian Tumulty, USA Today
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