Lax regulations cited in tour bus accident (concl.)

We’re wrapping up our discussion of the fallout from a terrifying tour bus accident. The accident resulted in multiple fatalities and multiple serious injuries. The investigation is ongoing, so the exact cause isn’t known. But as the media digs into the crash and the tour bus industry, details of regulatory shortcomings emerge.

Our last post discussed the requirement that each driver keep a log of time off, time behind the wheel and time on duty but not driving. Here, we’ll address how the regulators monitor compliance.

Regulators often rely on state officials to conduct spot checks of these logbooks. Officials can stop buses along the road or catch up with them at popular tour destinations like amusement parks or casinos. The check for the most part focuses on the logbook. The problem is that the only thing these checks can confirm is that there is a logbook (hand-written); there’s no way to check if the entries are truthful.

The bus company involved in the accident had been cited for several logbook violations in the past. Reports offered no more information than that — they detailed no specific log deficiencies. In fact, safety advocates refer to the logbooks as “comic books.”

Tightening up the regulations is the job of Congress, and one effort to do so failed last year. The bill called for an electronic recording system in buses that would confirm logbook entries; the objective is to have more effective checks for fatigue rule violations. Other safety measures, including seat belts, were included in the proposal as well.

This crash has generated a lot of media coverage, thanks in part to the gruesome particulars of the accident but also thanks to the questionable record of the driver. It also happened in lawmakers’ back yard, just up Interstate 95. Perhaps another bill will get more support this year.

Sources:

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