U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., made a great point a few weeks ago when he suggested that there should be a national solution to stem the rash of tour bus accidents in 2011. He pointed out that there have already been more bus crashes this year so far than there were all of last year.
Several tour bus accidents made headlines just this weekend and the end of last week. Early Saturday morning in Pennsylvania, 14 people were injured and had to be hospitalized when a Greyhound bus en route to St. Louis overturned on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Just days before that, on Thursday, Nickelodeon “iCarly” star Miranda Cosgrove broke her ankle when her tour bus got into an accident on Interstate 70 in Illinois. The 18-year-old had been on her way from a show in Ohio to Kansas, where she’d been scheduled to perform Friday. Cosgrove had to cancel her summer tour because of her injuries.
But those accidents pale when compared to the March 12 tour bus crash in the Bronx that killed 15 passengers. That bus was transporting people back from a Connecticut casino to Manhattan’s Chinatown.
Many of these accidents happened very early in the morning, just before or right about dawn. In several cases, police suspect that drivers fell asleep behind the wheel. But why has this issue surfaced so often this year?
With the recession taking its toll, perhaps bus companies have laid off drivers, meaning those who are left have to work longer shifts. Or perhaps drivers, financially pinched, are volunteering to do more runs even if they are tired, to pay family bills.
In New York State at least, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to address the problem. His administration late last month, via the state Department of Transportation (DOT), launched a crackdown on charter bus companies, suspending the operating licenses of eight ”poor performing” tour bus operators.
“The eight companies are being directed to ceaseoperations under their New York licenses within five business days,” Cuomo’s administration said in a press release. “All of the companies have failed three or more roadside inspections of buses or drivers in the last six months of intensified state enforcement or failed their scheduled semi-annual bus inspections or received a federal out-of-service order.”
In a statement Cuomo said, ”The frequent, and at times flagrant, violations of state and federal safety regulations by charter bus companies has gone on for too long and put too many lives at risk.”
The Administration said that its action would pull some 100 buses off New York state roads pending a full DOT review of the companies’ vehicle fleets, drivers’ records, and company finances before the suspensions can be lifted.
The reviews will take place at the expense of the suspended companies, according to the press release. Failure to achieve full compliance will result in the permanent revocation of the companies’ right to operate in New York.
Some of the failing operators have separate interstate operating licenses issued by the federal government.
“DOT is working with the U.S. Department of Transportation to assure that sub-standard operators that lose their New York licenses cannot continue to operate in New York under a federal license,” the press release said.
DOT is also adding 20 new inspectors to step up enforcement of bus industry regulations and carrier compliance. The additional staff will perform about 11,000 safety performance inspections of high-risk operators and 2,000 safety audits of poor performing motor carriers annually, according to the Cuomo officials.
These enforcement activities are expected to generate $2 million in civil penalties annually.
In the past four months, DOT has performed 3,000 roadside bus inspections with 542 drivers and/or vehicles being placed out-of-service. This compares with 615 buses inspected at roadside in all of 2010 — a nearly a 400 percent increase.
DOT also conducts more than 160,000 routine bus-safety inspections annually, and works with the State Police to conduct more than 120,000 surprise roadside inspections of buses and trucks annually.
These carriers were suspended: Best Trails and Travel Corp.; Party Ride; A & W Tours Inc.; Touch of Class & Coach Inc.; Silver Star Limo Co.; Zoladz Limousine Service; Long Island Limousine Service Corp.; and Big Apple Bus Charter Inc.
At least New York is making an effort to address the problem head-on. It would be nice if other states did the same.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
email@example.com :: 800-992-9447 :: Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.