S. 554: A bad bill for the motorcoach industry and the public

By Clyde Hart

S. 554 will likely come before the Senate in the “lame duck” session which begins November 15. While the bill claims to enhance motorcoach safety, in reality it is a bad bill that can’t be made right. The industry was not asked to provide any input to the bill.  It must not be passed by the Senate during the lame duck session.

S. 554 ignores the fact that the motorcoach industry is in favor of greater safety in the industry. The industry and its association, the American Bus Association, worked with NHSTA on the agency’s proposal for lap/shoulder belts on motorcoaches. NHTSA’s regulatory proposal (NHTSA -2010-0112) is the first of several motorcoach safety issues NHTSA has listed for research (e.g. roof strength standards, emergency egress, fire suppression and prevention).  Indeed, it is fair to say that S. 554 is unnecessary in view of NHTSA’s research and regulations, as well as harmful to small business. S. 554 requires the imposition of its safety mandates (and there are 14 of them) in an accelerated time frame without scientific research. This rush to establish rules without proper analysis could make motorcoaches less safe rather than more so.

The bill would also subject motorcoach operators complying with the mandates to private law suits for failure to move as expeditiously as plaintiffs’ attorneys deem necessary and does not prevent States from enacting inconsistent safety standards forcing operators to choose the States in which they wish to operate.

S. 554’s safety mandates will each cost the industry billions of dollars. NHTSA estimates that the seat belt rulemaking alone will cost the industry up to $40,000 per vehicle (see 75 Fed. Reg. 50958, 50979) or $1.5 billion for the entire fleet.

The private motorcoach industry, which is largely a small business industry, provides all manner of transportation services to the nation. The majority of operators have fewer than 10 employees and seven coaches. The industry provides 762 million passenger trips annually and operates largely without any subsidy.

The private motorcoach industry is safety conscious. The industry does support a true safety bill, H.R. 1135, introduced on a bipartisan basis by several members of the House of Representatives. H.R. 1135 has all of the provisions S. 554 lacks, including a reasonable, workable time line in which all of the safety mandates in S. 554 can be enacted by the federal government, motorcoach manufacturers and operators.

It is fair to say that if S. 554 is passed that many operators will be forced to close their doors or drastically curtail service. It is also fair to say that this bill will do little to enhance safety.

Please write, call or email your Senators. Tell your elected officials that S. 554 is a bad bill that cannot enhance safety and must be rejected.

Clyde Hart is Senior Vice President for Government Affairs & Policy at the American Bus Association.

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