Bus Safety Comes to the Forefront
Buses can be an inexpensive way to travel, especially when considering rising gas prices and the cost of airline travel. However, bus travel has come under fire in 2011 because of the alarming number of accidents that have occurred on low fare and tour buses. According to a study released by the National Transportation Safety Board, these bus operators have fatal accident rates seven times higher than others. In March, a bus returning from a casino flipped on its side, struck a pole, and killed 15 passengers on board. Before that, a Megabus driver missed an exit, smashed into a low bridge, and killed four passengers. In total this year, there have been 23 interstate bus accidents in which 33 people have been killed with 452 injured.
Because of bus accidents such as those, there has been a call for more stringent regulation of the tour bus industry. Safety groups such as Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety have pushed for tougher regulations. As a result, inspections have been on the rise, even though the bus industry is extremely difficult to regulate because of the number of buses and the lack of inspectors. The National Association of Motorcoach Operators (NAMO) reports that there are more than 40,000 buses carrying 774 million passengers each year. With only 878 federal and state inspectors, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is challenged in its efforts to improve bus safety. Consequently, it is not surprising that unsafe busses and overworked or sleep-deprived drivers are on the highways.
In addition, bus operators complain that inspections can be burdensome and time-consuming. It may even be difficult for an inspector to track down bus operators and owners to schedule appointments for inspections. Some companies try to reopen after a previous shut down for safety violations or other infractions. Despite these challenges, federal authorities are stepping up. The FMCSA has conducted more than 30,000 surprise inspections on buses this year throughout the country as part of a series of actions aimed at improving the safety of passengers.
Given the limited governmental resources for regulation, access to the civil justice system to hold bus companies accountable has never been more important. Personal injury lawyers who obtain jury verdicts that compel negligent bus operators to compensate the injured are sending a powerful message: Violating safety rules and harming passengers is not acceptable.