Tragic accident raises questions of tour bus regulation

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Mar 18, 2011 in Car Accidents

We've said it before: West Virginia roads are dangerous. Drivers may be distracted by their phones or dazzled by the views; they may be unfamiliar with the twists and turns of two-lane state highways. Of course, the vehicles themselves may not be safe. Whatever the reason, the state logs too many fatal accident s. And a horrific accident on a northern interstate has called attention to all of these issues as they relate to discount tour buses.

The crash occurred early last Saturday morning in the Bronx. The bus was traveling from a casino in Connecticut back to New York City when it careened into a guardrail, flipped onto its side and was ripped apart by a signpost. The death toll has reached 15 so far, with several other passengers critically injured. An emergency responder described the scene as "a sea of bodies, dead and alive, intertwined with one another in a hellish tangle of twisted metal."

The bus operator has run that route and others for a long time, but not without some issues. In the past two years, two of the company's buses were in crashes, with passengers injured in both. And the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported that the company had been flagged recently for issues with fatigued drivers. Overall, though, the company's safety record was sound.

The driver's safety record is another matter. Investigators turned up a 2003 arrest for driving with a suspended license. He'd served two years in prison for manslaughter and another four for his participation in the theft of almost $84,000.

While the business of discount tour buses has grown, regulation of the industry has stood still, according to safety experts and politicians. The rules are lax, and enforcement is even more so. These buses transport millions of passengers a year, but the companies can hire pretty much whoever they want, the buses don't have seatbelts, and inspections rely on handwritten log books kept by the drivers.

To be continued.


New York Times, "Bus overturns on Bronx highway, killing 14," Robert D. McFadden, 03/blog/11

New York Times, "Lax Rules for Discount Buses Cited After I-95 Crash," By Michael M. Grynbaum and Patrick Mcgeehan, 03/14/11

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