NTSB Hearing on Bus Safety Sparks Calls for Regulation

The commercial bus industry is under fire following several <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/bus_accidents">accidents The Boxer release in recent years that have left many dead and scores injured. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has criticized Department of Transportation regulators for negligence, unanimously voting to cite the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for not implementing important safety standards, said the Washington Post.

Late last year, we pointed out that while airline crashes tend to receive more press, many travelers die in bus and train accidents as well, noting the August 2008 bus crash that killed 17 people traveling from Houston to a religious event, the Atlanta bus accident the prior year involving Bluffton University athletes, and the 2002 Texas bus accident involving Texas church campers.

The NTSB vote followed an investigation of a January 2008 Utah “rollover” crash in which nine died and 43 were injured, said the Washington Post. That crash was attributed to “driver fatigue,” said the Washington Post; however, it was the NHTSA’s stalling that did not enable safety standards for bus riders that added to the crash’s seriousness, it reported. Investigators discovered that the 71-year-old driver was, on the night of the crash, fatigued, which resulted in him to speed—between 88 and 92 miles per hour at the time of the crash—and lose control of the vehicle, reported the Washington Post. The investigation also revealed that just prior to the deadly crash, the driver reported being ill “with a head cold,” and “may have experienced altitude sickness, and was losing sleep nightly, possibly as a result of sleep apnea, the investigators said,” according to the Washington Post.

This points to problems with medical oversight, which is handled by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an agency within the transportation department, explained the Washington Post. The Board had issue with the agency because it did not respond to medical recommendations from an external advisory board that discussed sleep apnea, said the Washington Post. “It points up again the holes in the system…. I can’t find where we are getting at this particular issue,” said board member Kitty Higgins, quoted the Washington Post. Apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing stops for periods of time.

According to Mark V. Rosenker, NTSB acting chairman, the board was disturbed at the regulators’ “crawl toward” updated policies, adding, “It’s like looking at NHTSA back in the ’60s. They began to make great improvements in our automobiles, but virtually nothing has been done in motorcoaches for decades,” quoted the Washington Post. Deborah Hersman, a safety board member with the board for five years said that one of her early cases involved bus safety, telling the Washington Post, “I’m being told almost five years later that NHTSA is working on it.” Meanwhile, Rae Tyson, NHTSA spokesman, argued that it is working on new regulations and officials there say, “the process shouldn’t be rushed,” according to the Washington Post.

One long ongoing, unaddressed safety issue remains why basic recommendations made years ago have never been implemented.

This lack of action has confused safety advocates for an astounding 40 years. In 1968 NTSB first announced a recommendation to add seat belts to large nationwide buses; however, today, most buses do not offer seatbelts. The NTSB is the agency that investigates serious transportation crashes and issues and has been the most persistent in calling for safety improvements such as: Three-point seat belts, stronger windows, stronger roofs, heat sensors, fire suppression devices, stronger driver certification requirements, training, and more vigorous inspection and monitoring of bus companies.

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