Only accounting for a fraction of the nation's total highway losses and injuries, buses and bus safety do not garner much attention until tragedy strikes. Following a fatal Spring 2011 accident in New York City, concerns regarding the regulation and monitoring of these transportation giants have become a new National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) initiative, culminating in the May 10-11, 2011 Truck and Bus Forum.
Following a trip to Connecticut's Mohegan Sun Casino, a World Wide Travels tour bus was taking passengers to Chinatown. The bus lost control, and on the morning of March 12, 2011, most of the passengers were injured, with 15 dead. Days later, a driver and passenger were killed when a Super Luxury Tours bus crashed in New Jersey. The Super Luxury Tour bus company had been cited for a number of violations, including not meeting federal insurance requirements.
While the NTSB and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration investigated these matters, the Senate also convened hearings to address weaknesses in the nation's bus system. Lawmakers ultimately criticized the Department of Transportation for its lack of progress on bus safety reform.
The NTSB forum was convened to review the agency's progress since its 1999-2000 public hearings, which also followed a fatal bus accident. Seven discussion topics were outlined for the forum, which included carrier oversight, driver safety, crash mitigation and crash avoidance technologies. In addition to agenda items, the NTSB offered safety improvement recommendations for technological standards, including electronic stability controls, adaptive cruise control and warning systems.
While the NTSB recommended safety changes for the bus industry more than four decades ago, the transportation watchdog made additional suggestions in 2000. One suggestion included seat belts for all buses. To date, only a proposed rule has been developed for that recommendation.
Bus safety issues extend beyond operator error. They include inadequate monitoring of carriers with histories of safety problems. This most recent NTSB forum comes after the tragic reminder that measures are needed to improve safety. The agency will need to find methods that can improve safety for all passengers who travel by bus.