WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee hearing on ensuring the safety of our nation’s motorcoach passengers.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, 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.
Senator Frank R. LautenbergChairmanU.S. Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security
WASHINGTON, D.C.--I welcome everyone to today’s hearing, which I called because we have serious concerns about the safety of our nation’s buses—and we need answers. During the past three weeks, separate tour bus crashes in New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire killed 17 people and injured dozens more.
Our hearts go out to the families of those who died so tragically, and we wish a quick recovery to all who were injured. Our hearts also go out to all the families and friends of bus accident victims.
Many of these family members have gone on to become powerful advocates for stronger bus safety measures. Several are here today—including John Betts and Yen Chi-Li—and I thank them for attending. We are saddened by your loss, but we are inspired by your tireless work on these important issues.
We owe it to all of the victims of bus accidents and their families to get to the bottom of why these crashes happened—and to do everything in our power to prevent crashes from happening in the future.
The deadliest of the recent bus crashes occurred on March 12th in the Bronx in New York. A tour bus flipped on its side and slid into a signpost, shearing off most of its roof. This photograph shows the tragic consequences of this crash. It was a gruesome scene that took 15 lives—so it is difficult to look at this picture. But we need to understand the severity of the problem if we are going to be successful in solving it.
In this crash, the driver had a history of driving without a license and had used an alias to get a new license. The bus company had also been cited for previous safety violations.
Two days later, another tour bus lost control and struck a bridge on the New Jersey Turnpike and then slammed into an embankment, killing two and injuring 40. The company that operated this tour bus had a safety record worse than 99.6 percent of operators in the country.
We need to understand why these dangerous drivers and bus companies were not taken off the road before these disasters.
There is no doubt that buses play a critical role in our nation’s transportation network. Each year, 750 million passengers travel aboard 35,000 motor coaches. These vehicles often connect cities and communities that lack access to trains or commercial airlines. And they are one of the most affordable modes of transportation—many Americans rely on buses to reach vacation destinations, visit family and take sightseeing excursions across our country. Buses have also been used to evacuate communities during emergencies, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Although buses are generally safe, more than 7,000 people are injured in bus crashes each year and, on average,16 die. That number may not sound big, but remember: Each one is someone’s child or parent. One life lost is too many, especially when there are steps we can take to prevent these types of tragedies.
I’m concerned that the Department of Transportation isn’t moving quickly enough to implement its 2009 plan to make motor coaches safer. Even though DOT has met some of the deadlines included in the plan, it hasn’t finished writing the rules needed to make buses safer. It is also unacceptable that bus companies continue to put unsafe drivers and buses on the road. Just because bus companies can discount prices doesn’t mean they can discount safety.
If drivers are not fully trained, qualified and alert, they should not be trusted with the lives of dozens of passengers. We owe it to the public to make sure only the safest companies are allowed to operate motor coaches—and that only the safest drivers are behind the wheel.
So I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses about what we must do to make sure all travelers reach their destinations safely.###
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Sherrod BrownUnited States SenatorOhio
Witness Panel 2
The Honorable Deborah HersmanChairmanNational Transportation Safety Board
The Honorable Anne FerroAdministratorFederal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Mr. Ron MedfordDeputy AdministratorNational Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Mr. Peter J. PantusoPresident and CEOAmerican Bus Association
The Honorable Joan ClaybrookConsumer Co-Chair, Advocates for Highway and Auto SafetyFormer NHTSA Administrator