The Northeast has seen three tour bus accidents in less than a month. On March 21, a New Jersey-based PRT tour bus rolled over in New Hampshire, seriously injuring five people.
The bus was travelling to Boston from Quebec, carrying 25 Koreans. The driver apparently lost control on a snowy highway.
On March 15, a bus headed from Chinatown to Philadelphia crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike in East Brunswick, killing two, the driver and a passenger.
The worst accident of the three happened on March 12, with 15 passengers killed when a Worldwide Tours Bus headed to New York City's Chinatown from a Connecticut casino crashed into a sign pole in the Bronx, shearing through the bus.
A Decade of Deadly Accidents
And these are only the most recent in a growing line of deadly bus accidents that have occurred on the nation’s highways:
- Sherman Texas, 2008: a bus ran off a bridge and rolled over, and as a result of the accident, 17 bus passengers died.
- Mexican Hat, Utah, 2008: the bus rolled over and the roof of the bus separated from the body. 50 of the 53 occupants were ejected. As a result of this accident, 9 passengers were fatally injured and 43 passengers (and the driver) were injured.
- Atlanta, Georgia, 2007: a bus went over the side of a bridge rail, turned clockwise and fell 19 feet onto the southbound lanes of the interstate. Seven bus occupants were killed: the driver, the driver’s wife, and five passengers.
- Osseo, Wisconsin, 2005: a bus collided with an overturned truck, and the bus driver and four passengers were fatally injured. Thirty-five passengers were injured.
- Turrell, Arkansas, 2004: The rollover and partial detachment of the bus roof resulted in the ejection of all 30 occupants. The bus driver was not wearing his lap belt; the passenger seats were not equipped with seat belts, as is the case in many buses. In total, 14 passengers and the driver, who was partially trapped under the roof, were killed.
- Victor, New York, 2002: the bus driver fell asleep and ran off the road. The bus turned over. Five passengers were killed; the driver and 41 passengers were injured.
New York Bus Crackdown
In March, New York began increased enforcement of regulations regarding tour buses. The Wall Street Journal reported 16 of 26 buses stopped at a Manhattan checkpoint were put out of service for vehicle or driver violations (or both).
At checkpoints outside New York City, out-of-service violations against the driver or bus were found in 25 of 138 inspections.
New York requires bus safety inspections every six months, while federal regulations only mandate safety inspections on a yearly basis.
Many of the bus accidents over the last decade have involved questions of drivers and fatigue. Part of the problem stems from the use of log books that are self-reported by the driver.
Log Books, a.k.a. Comic Books
Log books are supposed to be maintained by the driver to log drive time and rest periods. The suspicion is that log books are often falsified by the drivers, to cover up driving for too long and taking inadequate rest. Critics of the system – and drivers themselves – sometimes refer to them as “comic books,” given their lack of accuracy.
New Jersey Democratic senator Frank Lautenberg is working to implement the safety rules proposed by the Department of Transportation in 2009 for charter bus operators. Safety improvements include requiring electronic onboard recording devices to monitor drivers, mandatory seat belts for passengers, improving stability to fight rollovers, banning texting by drivers, and more.
Attempts to Increase Oversight Stymied
The National Transportation Safety Board said 60 percent of fatal bus crashes the board investigated over a 12-year period were the result of problems related to the driver.
About half of all bus fatalities in recent years have occurred as the result of rollovers, and about 70 percent of those killed in rollover accidents were ejected from the bus, according to the NTSB.
While the NTSB has worked for years to implement new regulations, there has been significant opposition from the charter industry.
The most recent bill in Congress in 2010 was awaiting Senate passage when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., placed a hold on the measure. The bill died when Congress adjourned.
If you have been injured as a result of an accident, from tour bus accidents to school bus accidents, consider discussing your case with an experienced personal injury attorney.