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Reaction to crashes misses the mark

Rogue operators continue to tarnish the industry

By David Hubbard

Early morning Saturday, March 12, in New York City, a Wide World Tours coach returning from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut to Chinatown overturned along Interstate 95 in the Bronx and slid into a highway sign, killing 15 people and injuring 20. Monday evening, a Super Luxury Tours motorcoach careened off the New Jersey Turnpike in East Brunswick and struck a concrete overpass support near the Route 18 interchange, lurched across all three lanes and came to rest on the side of the road. One passenger died in the crash. The driver died after being ejected 15 feet through the windshield.

These two fatal accidents evoked the public outcry over the overall safety of passengers riding on motorcoaches that has now become predictable. In the aftermath, New York Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Nydia Velasquez complained to the National Transportation Safety Board, citing the first crash “as just another example of an industry that in many cases is operating outside the bounds of city, state and federal transportation safety guidelines,” according to the Associated Press.

True to a point, but their comments point only to an extremely small percentage of all North America motorcoach operators, and unfortunately still smack of the same over-generalized, knee-jerk response of putting the entire motorcoach industry at fault and demanding that something be done about it immediately.

Meanwhile, industry leaders and operators continue to say motorcoaches are clearly the safest mode of ground transportation. Statistically, this is a true statement, but no one is purporting safe coach travel as unconditional.

Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association (ABA), spent most of this week fielding calls from the media. He says while initial questions focused on the issue of seat belts — questions perpetuated by politics — this time around, as the accounts of these crashes unfolded, the questions turned to compliance and enforcement. He says one journalist actually grasped the fact not all motorcoach companies are alike in this respect.

Though the political response generally fails to address the precise causes and effects that lead to injuries and fatalities, the motorcoach industry shares the same disdain for the hapless, irresponsible motorcoach companies flying under the radar. They only create more mayhem for the 99.9 percent of coach owners who operate in good faith and stake their livelihood on the safety of their equipment, mechanics, drivers and performance records.

With his extensive criminal record, which includes manslaughter, grand larceny and driving without a driver’s license, how the driver of the Wide World Tours coach could be behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle with a valid CDL is the question on everyone’s mind.

Investigators of the company involved in the second crash will consider a litany of driver-related violations that includes driver fatigue, unsafe driving and driver fitness, according to FMCSA records.

Accidents are preventable, but they are going to occur regardless. Seat belts may ultimately save more lives, and maybe more stringent construction standards would avert passenger ejections. But at this very moment, aggressive and keenly focused enforcement of the laws already on the books is one sure way to kick incompetent, dangerous drivers off the bus and shut down the rogues.

With the majority of the deadliest coach crashes occurring with irresponsible companies that demonstrate no regard for the safety of passengers, where is the crackdown?

When any accidents occurs, it is just as important to question the effectiveness of regulators and inspectors contracted to enforce the federal safety regulations, as it is to scrutinize the motorcoach companies.

DOT and FMCSA have made giant strides over the last several years to recognize and address safety issues specific to motorcoach operations and sharpen the enforcement tools to pinpoint the problems. Compliant operators vary only slightly in their opinion of safety regulators and inspectors. A prevailing attitude wafting through the industry suggests the approach by a great number of regulators and inspectors is simply too lazy to fix this problem.

One camp sees little effort to track down the rogues and believes nothing changes even when they do come face to face with a bad actor.

Operators in the second camp give them a little more credit for at least making an effort to shut them down and prevent their reappearance under another name.

Both camps agree if local inspectors had it in mind to really clean up the industry, they would have little problem clamping down on a host of very fixable issues — a job made easier by federal encouragement, new tools of astounding depth in the Status Measurement System (SSMS) and Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) from FMCSA, and not to mention public sentiment.

If the state regulators accept federal money to carry out this function and fail in their duties to enforce the most questionable companies, one suggestion is for the federal agencies to simply hire independent third-party inspectors to get the job done properly. What’s more, we hear time and again from truly compliant coach operators who could and would gladly provide a list of questionable carriers to chase down. As BUSRide wrote previously on this issue: What part of Sic’ em don’t these people get?

Posted by on Mar 17 2011. Filed under Features. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

5 Comments for “Reaction to crashes misses the mark”

  1. [...] bus was traveling at the time of the accident. For expanded coverage on this story in BUSRide, visit http// Posted by admin on Mar 15 2011. Filed under Latest News. You can follow any responses to [...]

  2. J. Dalton Green

    Both NY – NJ bus accidents were Chinatown bus operations. Anyone who knows their history, seen their equipment, sees their unprofessional drivers speeding, violating lane rules up and down I-95, knows these accidents SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED BEFORE NOW. Where is USDOT OVERSIGHT, auditing, compliance reviews. You can not convince me they have the REQUIRED $5MILLION INSURANCE. They can’t afford maintenance, the rear wheel seals are always leaking on these filthy, beat up, worn out buses.

  3. World Wide Tours is not a Chinatown bus operation. I am not aware of their principals being Chinese, nor does most of their work originate in Chinatown. If we are going to evaluate problems in the motorcoach industry, the first thing we need to do is properly identify what is actually happening. A bus returning from a casino ran off the road last week in Minnesota on the way home and the reporting on that is pretty light even though it killed one person.

    Perhaps no one saw the article about the World Wide driver using an alias. How do you background check someone not using their real name? Do companies have the capability and permission to background check people using photo recognition in addition to a license? I would rather USDOT do away with the background check and have operators put DriveCam or an equivalent on every bus. That means the base can see everyone all the time and they can spotcheck drivers randomly for poor driving habits on a regular basis virtually in real time.

    USDOT makes their lives too complicated by profiling. Check everybody on a regular basis and there won’t be a problem. However, they should be fair. Certain states have earned a reputation for racial profiling of bus operations and the Chinese get it the worse. Regular checks at certain locations would fix the problem instead of isolating it to certain communities.

  4. AZdriver

    It is very easy to eliminate and discourage those drivers who have chosen to use an alias in order to gain a CDL…just implement one item of the process that school district are required to perform…fingerprint cards with a background check. Anyone who is willing to undergo this process is probably going to be a good driver, or can be trained to be one. Those who have something to hide, or are trying to work the system will not want their “secrets” to be discovered, and therefore will not gain a CDL.

    Does this constitute profiling? Not entirely, but to some degree, yes.
    Does this create an atmosphere of being able to hire drivers that parents can be assured are not pedophiles? It’s not a 100% guarantee, but it’s the best possible method.

    Most insurance companies require a 5 year driving history, and most employers require a 10 year work history. Why not require a 10 year driving history?

    Why not tie a driver’s personal driving record directly to his commercial driving record, and have the personal record have an even greater impact on their CDL than currently exists? I know that most states already have the two records tied together, but usually it takes only 2 years for something like a moving violation to drop completely from the record. Have it stay one for the length of the check. If it’s a 5 year record that is requested and/or required, then keep the violations on there for same amount of time.

    There are things that won’t cost the government anything more, but will create an environment of greater accountability for the driver’s, the companies, and the industry as a whole. The cost of fingerprint cards and background check can and should be covered by the applicants. The companies can even refund that back to the applicant, IF they are hired.

    I agree that there is far too many knee-jerk reactions, too much over-generalization by the media and public at large, but there’s also too little proactive work being done by those most affected…the smaller companies. Usually it’s caused by the mind-set of, “we don’t have the money” or “we only have a few coaches and employees, we cannot possibly have any kind of impact” or worse yet “it always (or never) been done that way.”

    It’s time for us to get out there do everything we can to improve what is happening within our own companies, and not be afraid to openly report those companies and/or drivers that are in violation.

  5. P.Ross

    I am A Professional Motor Coach Driver. I run a line haul from Mohegan Sun Casino to Flushing NY. 4 days a week. I run for and with a major Company and I LOVE Every Minute of my run. I like the people who travel on my bus and I like the people I work for. DOT can stop me anytime, anywhere and find me in compliance at ALL times. My company doesn’t put up with any BS. I pray for the people who lost their loved ones and I pray the transportation industry reacts with real concern for all of us involved in this life style. It is not easy being on the road anymore. 23 years ago, when I first started driving a semi, things seemed more personal. Your boss knew your name, your family, and your abilities. Now a days, I’m not real sure many Companies look past the bottom line.

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