Schumer Renews Push for Legislation to Strengthen Bus Safety and Driver Training

July 19, 2011 Updated Jul 19, 2011 at 1:56 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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Schumer Renews Push for Legislation to Strengthen Bus Safety and Driver Training

July 19, 2011 Updated Jul 19, 2011 at 1:56 PM EDT

(WKBW release) In light of a fatal bus crash in the Southern Tier on Sunday, New York Senator Charles E. Schumer renewed his push for legislation to strengthen bus safety and driver training, while continuing his pursuit of a public bus-safety rating system for potential riders to reduce the number of low-fare bus crashes and related fatalities.

The legislation that Schumer supports would require the Secretary of Transportation to devise new standards for tire tests, as well as passenger safety belts on all busses.

Sunday’s bus crash occurred on Interstate 390 in Steuben County, killing two individuals and injuring 35 others. The Bedore Tours bus was headed from Washington D.C. to Niagara Falls, and preliminary reports indicate that a tire blew out on the bus, causing the driver to lose control. This crash is the latest in a series of crashes, and near crashes, that have occurred in the discount tour bus industry.

In March 2011, a World Wide Tour bus traveling to New York crashed on Interstate 95 in the Bronx, and killed 15 people. Also in March 2011, a Super Luxury Tour headed from Chinatown to Pennsylvania crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing two people, including the bus driver.

“This news of yet another fatal bus crash in New York is a stark reminder that we need to improve bus safety as quickly as possible, and I am going to work as hard as I can to pass legislation that will do exactly that,” said Schumer. “We need to pass comprehensive safety legislation that includes tire safety standards to slow this growing epidemic of crashes. I will also continue my push for a letter grade safety rating system so passengers know the safety ratings of bus carriers before they buy tickets. I won’t rest until we get to the bottom of what happened in this crash, and put in place the necessary safeguards to make commercial buses as safe as they possibly can be.”

Schumer notes that the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, which Schumer strongly supports, includes a section of regulations for improved occupant protection and motor coach crash avoidance pertaining to tire safety standards. Specifically, it states that, “The Secretary shall upgrade performance standards for tires used on motorcoaches, including an enhanced endurance test and a new high-speed performance test.” Schumer is pushing for this legislation to be passed as soon as possible, so that future accidents may be avoided.

The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, sponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, would specifically require: (1) Improved commercial driver training, of which none is currently required by federal regulation. (2) Safety belts and stronger seating systems to ensure occupants stay in their seats in a crash. (3) Anti-ejection glazing windows to prevent passengers from being easily thrown outside the motorcoach. (4) Strong, crush-resistant roofs that can withstand rollovers.(5) Improved protection against fires by reducing flammability of the motorcoach interior, and better training for operators in the case of fire. (6) A National Commercial Motor Vehicle Medical Registry to ensure that only medically qualified examiners conduct physical examinations of drivers and a medical certificate process to ensure that all certificates are valid and no unqualified operator is allowed to drive. (7) Strengthened motorcoach vehicle safety inspections including roadside inspections, safety audits, and state and motor carrier programs for identifying vehicle defects. (8) Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) with real-time capabilities to track precise vehicle location that cannot be tampered with by the driver.

A second piece of Schumer’s push to improve bus safety and reduce the number of low-fare bus crashes and related fatalities, is to develop a simplified safety rating system for discount tour bus companies.

Despite the poor safety records of some bad actors in the discount tour bus industry, it is very difficult for passengers to get an accurate picture of safety records of these companies. Though the FMCSA currently has a ranking system on its website, the database is difficult to navigate and the rating system is not easy to understand. Schumer believes that passengers have a right to easily accessible information on the safety record of their motor coach carrier, including past incidents like that which occurred this past weekend.

In June 2011, Schumer called on the USDOT and FMCSA to create a clear and simplified rating system for the discount tour bus industry that would prominently display a letter grade that is easy to understand at the point of purchase for tickets on these buses.

Schumer said that by providing a clear rating, similar to the system used by New York City to rate the health standards of local restaurants, passengers would be better informed about the safety of the buses before they purchase tickets and would be able to make a more informed decision as to which carrier to use. The system would also reward companies with strong safety records and serve as an incentive for companies to improve their safety records. Schumer notes that in light of yet another fatal bus crash in New York, this grading system is crucial to passenger safety.

Following a bus crash in March which killed 15 people, Schumer and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez secured a commitment from the National Transportation Safety Board to launch a broad investigation into the entire safety regime that governs the low-cost tour bus industry. Schumer said that he will use the finding of this investigation to push for better oversight of the industry.

In March 2011, a World Wide Tour bus traveling to New York crashed on Interstate 95 in the Bronx, and killed 15 people. Also in March, a Super Luxury Tour headed from Chinatown to Pennsylvania crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing two people, including the bus driver.

In August 2005, a low-fare tour bus traveling from Boston to New York burst into flames on a Connecticut highway, with passengers barely escaping; in September 2006, a low-fare tour bus heading to New York City crashed and three people were injured as it rolled off an exit ramp in Massachusetts.

In May 2007, a similar tour bus company crashed on a trip from New York to Chicago, killing two people; and this past June a bus from Chinatown heading to Atlantic City crashed and the driver was ejected and then run over.