It could just as easily have happened in Florida. A crowded tour bus, making its way home on a busy interstate in the early hours of the morning, goes off the road. Passengers are injured or killed. The bus company has a good safety record, but something went wrong, and lives are torn apart.
Last weekend’s tour bus crash on Interstate 95 shocked even veteran emergency personnel. The bus reportedly left its lane several times, hitting the rumble strip, before smashing through a guardrail, flipping on its side and, worst of all, hitting a signpost that ripped the bus from end to end. To date, 15 passengers have died. Many remain hospitalized in critical condition. The driver survived, with minor injuries.
The bus company has a good safety record. They were cited recently for fatigued drivers, and their buses were involved in a couple of accidents over the last two years. Overall, though, there haven’t been major issues with the carrier, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Investigators discovered that the driver had spent a few years in jail, for theft and manslaughter. He’d also been arrested in 2003 for driving with a suspended license.
The driver’s record has raised questions about the regulations governing these buses. Politicians and safety advocates alike say that the tour bus industry is growing fast, but regulations continue to be lax. For example, to be a bus driver, all a person has to do is obtain a commercial driver’s license. These licenses are issued at the state level, and no criminal background check is required. Federal regulators haven’t much control over who gets behind the wheel.
And once they’re behind the wheel, the oversight doesn’t get much better.
Continued in our next post.
New York Times, “Bus overturns on Bronx highway, killing 14,” Robert D. McFadden, 03/12/11
New York Times, “Lax Rules for Discount Buses Cited After I-95 Crash,” By Michael M. Grynbaum and Patrick Mcgeehan, 03/14/11