On Two-Year Anniversary of Bluffton Accident, Sens. Brown, Hutchison Announce Bus Safety Bill

Senators Call on Congress to Help Prevent Further Tragedies by Passing Motorcoach Safety Bill

March 2, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC— On the two-year anniversary of a bus crash that resulted in the tragic death of five Bluffton University baseball players, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) announced  that they will reintroduce comprehensive motorcoach safety legislation. The legislation would overhaul and dramatically increase the safety of motorcoaches to reduce deaths and serious injuries caused by accidents. 

"In the two years since the Bluffton University bus crash, it has become clear that we need motorcoach safety reform and we need it now,” said Brown. “This bipartisan legislation will help prevent bus trips from becoming tragedies."

"In the past several years, there has been a rash of deadly motorcoach crashes, including the Bluffton tragedy, and three catastrophic bus accidents that resulted in the injury and death of scores of Texans,” said Hutchison. “Sen. Sherrod Brown and I have introduced a bill to help prevent future motorcoach crashes and to reduce fatalities when accidents do occur. Every year that Congress delays passage of this badly needed legislation, the lives of American passengers are placed at risk in accidents that should be prevented."

"As the cost of train and air travel is on the rise, the bus has become an ever more popular mode of transportation,” said Rep. John Lewis, the sponsor of companion legislation in the House. “The Bluffton accident reminds us all that buses carry precious cargo--our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and grandparents. That is why we must take the steps to ensure that passengers are as safe on buses as they are in cars and require US DOT to demand improved protection standards of bus manufacturers. There is no better way to honor the deaths of the Bluffton University baseball team than to try to reduce the chances that this kind of tragedy will happen again."

On March 2, 2007, the Bluffton University baseball team was traveling from Ohio to Florida for a tournament during the university’s spring break.  While attempting to exit Interstate 75 in Atlanta, the team’s chartered bus fell off an overpass and landed on its side on the road below. The crash resulted in the deaths of five members of the baseball team, the driver and his wife, and numerous injuries to the other 33 passengers.

According to the American Bus Association, there were over 750 million passenger trips by motorcoach in 2007 covering more than 60 billion miles. Despite an increase in ridership and a lengthy list of motorcoach safety improvements suggested by the National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. Department of Transportation lacks the ability to implement many basic passenger safety protections.  This includes safety belts, crush-resistant roofs, and stronger windows.

The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2009, which Brown and Hutchison will introduce this week when the Senate reconvenes, would require DOT to make much-needed upgrades to federal safety standards for motorcoaches, increase driver operating standards and training requirements, and implement important safety-enhancing technologies.

Specifically, the bipartisan legislation would require:

  • Safety belts and stronger seating systems to ensure occupants stay in their seats in a crash.
  • Anti-ejection glazing on windows to prevent passengers from being easily thrown outside the motorcoach.
  • Strong, crush-resistant roofs that can withstand rollovers.
  • Improved protection against fires by reducing flammability of the motorcoach interior, and better training for operators in the case of fire. 
  • Improved commercial driver training. Currently, no training is required by federal regulation.
  • Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) with real-time capabilities to track precise vehicle location, and recorded data not accessible to manipulation by a driver or motor carrier.

Brown and Hutchison’s legislation is an expansion of legislation they introduced in 2007. The Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security held an oversight hearing on bus safety in September 2008.

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