Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on the Safety of Our Nation's Motorcoach Passengers

March 30, 2011

Chairman RockefellerWASHINGTON, D.C.—When Americans travel to work, visit their families, or conduct business, they expect to arrive at their destinations safely and without incident. And whether they travel by plane, train, or bus, their transportation providers have a responsibility to make sure their equipment is safe and their operators and drivers are trained and rested.

The average traveler relies on our federal and state governments to conduct rigorous oversight to make certain these companies operate at the highest safety standards and to weed out any bad actors that fail to operate at safe levels.

But in the past two weeks, a series of bus accidents have raised serious questions about the safety of the bus industry.

News reports of the March 12th crash of a bus bound for Manhattan’s Chinatown painted a harrowing scene of tangled bodies and steel. The bus scraped along an I-95 guard rail for 300 feet, then sliced into a support pole which knifed through the bus and peeled off the roof. Fifteen people were killed.

The horrific New York bus crash and two bus accidents since—in New Jersey and New Hampshire—make me question whether the agencies responsible for overseeing the industry—the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—are as focused on commercial bus safety as they should be. 

While these accidents are still under investigation, significant questions remain about the fitness of the buses and the drivers involved.

Even more alarming, when police set up a surprise checkpoint in New York City last week, not one of the 16 buses that were pulled over passed inspection. Not a single one.

When I read reports like this, my heart goes out to the families that have lost their loved ones. In my judgment, the industry is not fulfilling its obligations to operate to the level of safety its passengers expect and deserve. I am concerned that the industry’s own oversight is lax, and our regulators are not holding operators sufficiently accountable.

Now, I know that the industry makes the argument that, statistically, travel by motorcoach is safe. But that claim does not matter one bit to families who have lost loved ones in bus accidents. One bus driver who should not be behind the wheel is one too many.

And when operators are failing even the irregular inspections they’re held to, this leads me to believe we’ve got a big problem. We simply must to do more to protect passengers.

As I have said before, safety is the bedrock of any responsible industry. This is especially true for any company that is entrusted with transporting its customers. I thank Senators Hutchison and Lautenberg for their leadership on motorcoach safety and I look forward to hearing from the panel today on how we can maximize safety and stop these horrific accidents.