Around 750 million passengers ride on America's motor coaches and tour buses each year. They include sports teams traveling to games, senior groups off on a gambling junket and church groups headed on retreat. Yet, despite this traffic, motor coaches in the United States have fewer safety regulations and safety modifications than the typical mini-van - and this lack of regulation is costing lives.
One such accident involving a tour bus recently took the lives of 15 members of a group returning to New York City from a casino in Connecticut. Several other passengers were injured in that crash. Other fatal motor coach accidents have occurred recently in New Jersey and New Hampshire.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairperson Deborah Hersman testified before a Congressional hearing on the issue of bus safety in late March. She said the technology exists to prevent many bus accidents. For example, requiring better roofs that won't shear off in an accident could reduce motor coach fatalities by up to 50 percent by preventing passengers from being ejected from buses.
The technology for better roofs already exists. The same is true for other recommended improvements. These could include installing seat belts for passengers and equipping buses with adaptive cruise control that adjusts the speed automatically to adapt to road conditions. The use of such technology could substantially reduce the number of motor vehicle accidents involving buses.
The American Bus Association estimates that modifying America's buses would cost somewhere around $89,000 per coach. That may sound like a lot of money, but Joan Claybrook, former NTSB chief, points out that the cost would amount to only around a nickel more per bus ticket.
Ron Medford, current deputy NTSB administrator, says his agency is in the process of crafting new bus safety standards. These can't come too soon for the millions of passengers that will be traveling America's highways in motor coaches this summer.