Travel by buses is among the safest modes of transportation. However, because these vehicles carry a larger number of passengers, when something does go wrong, more people are at risk of injury or death. Bus safety is a multifaceted issue involving not just the vehicle, but also the drivers, bus and motorcoach operators, and oversight agencies.
In recent years, the national focus has been on adequately protecting bus occupants in a crash, which is critical to improving survival rates and avoiding injury during a crash. Much can be done, however, to decrease the likelihood of a crash in the first place. Through its investigations, the NTSB has found that the problem is often with the individual driver or company operations. The actions of impaired, distracted, or fatigued drivers have had catastrophic consequences. Additionally, bus operators continue to demonstrate unsafe operating practices, particularly those operators who have been placed out-of-service by oversight agencies and are then reincarnated under another name or with a new U.S. Department of Transportation number.
Bus operators require government authority, their drivers require professional driver's licenses, and their customers pay for service. As a result, bus passengers deserve and expect the highest level of safety. An important step in improving safety is to ensure that the professional motorcoach driver is qualified. For example, bus operators should review a longer, more comprehensive driving history during the recruitment/hiring process and use video event recorder information to assess on-the-job performance. In addition, drivers should undergo regular medical examinations by an authorized medical professional to ensure that they are fit to operate such complex machinery. Drivers and operators should also work together to limit hours of service to ensure that drivers have adequate opportunity for rest—and to institute measures, such as fatigue risk management programs and vehicle technologies, that can assist operators and drivers in recognizing and mitigating fatigue.
But there can be no guarantee that drivers are qualified unless their companies are held to a proper standard. New companies should be required to demonstrate their safety fitness before the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) grants authority to operate. When reviewing a company's ongoing operations, the FMCSA should place greater emphasis on vehicle and driver performance, which are disproportionately factors in accidents. And if the FMCSA determines that a company is not fit to continue operations, there should be methods for verifying that the company has ceased operating. Consumers can further reinforce these standards by doing business and contracting only with those bus operators that employ best practices and have the best safety records.
Nationwide, more than 700 million passengers nearly the entire population of Europe-are transported by buses annually. Most travel to and from their destinations safely. Yet despite the strong safety record of buses, according to the FMCSA, there were more than 250 people killed and 20,000 injured in bus-related crashes in 2009.
From 2000-2007, there were 1,093 fatal accidents involving large buses, resulting in 1,315 fatalities and 3,471 injuries. Large buses are often used to provide charter/tour scheduled service, commuter service and shuttle service.
* This is not a comprehensive list of all reports and events related to this issue.