Feds Seek ‘Zero Tolerance’ of Unsafe Private Bus Companies

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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is asking Congress to adopt new zero-tolerance policies to combat unsafe bus and motorcoach operators.

FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro made the comment last week during a Motorcoach Bus Safety Media event in Washington, D.C.

“These proposals include tough penalties for companies and drivers who try to evade our safety actions,” she said. “We are also advancing a pre-authority safety audit of any company who applies for authority to be a passenger carrier in the United States.”

Ferro acknowledged that less than 50 passenger fatalities occur on board motorcoaches a year despite serving 750 million passengers. In comparison, school buses account for, on average, approximately five or six student fatalities per year. The yellow vehicles transport 24 million students and account for more than 10 billion trips per year.

Ferro added that FMCSA has doubled the number of on-site motorcoach compliance reviews over the past five years. In addition, along with state partners, FMCSA also has doubled the number of destination inspections to 46,000 last year. During March and April alone, 20,000 inspections were conducted, which uncovered nearly 1,700 violations that put the drivers or the vehicles out of service. She added that these inspections are especially important this time of year as the number of charter trips tend to increase during the summer months.

FMCSA is also developing a new rule to establish a national clearinghouse of truck and bus drivers who have tested positive or refused testing under the USDOT drug and alcohol testing program.

“And we’ll require employers to use that clearinghouse before hiring a driver,” she added. “Congressional action will strengthen this proposal.

FMCSA is also rolling out a package of resources to help when selecting a a bus company. Ferro said the program includes a new consumer checklist to help passengers make bus travel safer by considering more than just price and convenience. Possible solutions include school buses.

Private school bus companies are required to comply with current and future FMCSA actions, but public fleets would be exempt. Last week during the NSTA Capitol Hill Fly-In and spring meetings, members discussed the need to require all school bus drivers and operators to comply with the same safety regulations rather than singling out private enterprise.

Meanwhile, legislation was again being debated in Congress to force enhanced motorcoach safety.