Charter buses are a commonly-used means of transportation for large groups of people. Tour groups, high school groups, college athletic teams, and groups going on day trips for gambling, sightseeing, and other group activities often charter a bus as an affordable way to travel. When people charter these buses they often assume the coaches they ride in are properly maintained and staffed and, because the Department of Transportation regulates them, they assume that the companies who own these charter buses are safe. However, travel by motorcoach has never been as safe or as regulated as air travel.
A recent charter bus accident killed a pregnant Seton Hall University lacrosse coach, the bus driver, and injured many others. This terrible tragedy changed the lives of many. This is just one of many accidents involving charter buses and athletes.
And analysis performed for ESPN several years ago demonstrated the dangers associated with buses chartered by college athletic teams. According to researchers, buses chartered by the colleges and universities were often poorly maintained, poorly staffed, and not safe enough to be carrying precious cargo like our young athletes.
The analysis discovered that about one-third of all Division I universities – at least 85 schools – used charter bus companies during the period between 2007 and 2008 that had been cited for at least one, and often several violations, and which had federal safety scores that were considered deficient. That means hundreds of college athletes were traveling to their games on buses owned by companies that had failed to meet basic federal safety standards.
While one or two violations isn’t a good thing, it just indicates that those companies may have made a mistake once or twice. More troubling is that 35 of those 85 schools used companies with an overall rating of “conditional,” which is a step below “satisfactory,” and that indicates a distinct pattern of safety infractions. By rating a charter bus company as “conditional,” regulators are basically suggesting that schools take their business elsewhere.
When it’s suggested that a company isn’t meeting basic federal standards, we’re not talking about buses with torn seats and a broken television up front. These are companies that seem to consider safety an afterthought. Such a bad record usually comes from a number of terrible factors, including things like worn out tires, faulty brakes, moving violations, broken emergency exits or even crashes. In some cases, they get cited for faked, incomplete or non-existent log books. This is important, because bus operators are required to log their hours and obey driving time rules, in order to prevent driver fatigue. Some companies have even been cited for letting unqualified drivers operate their buses.
According to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), whenever students get on a bus owned by a company with a deficient score, studies indicate that they are more likely to be in an accident, and be injured or killed. Several experts suggest that the nation’s top athletic programs should be more concerned over bus safety, because that would help to raise awareness at all levels.
People with a strong understanding of this issue have come up with a number of tips that all schools should use to choose a safe charter bus company:
- Before committing to a company, get its DOT number. Be careful, because a number of companies may use names that sound similar names, or they may have an operating name that is different than their registered name, but the number is unique. If in doubt, the number is on the side of every bus out there.
- Take the DOT number and head to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website, or its Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System website, where you can check a company’s rating and its SafeStat scores.
- The FMCSA has published a guide to chartering buses, as well as a list of questions to ask charter companies about their safety policies and insurance.
- The United Motorcoach Association has also published its advice on selecting charter companies.
- Athletic departments and teams can go to busrates.com to find safety, pricing and availability information, plus ratings from past customers.
No matter where an athlete, or student, attends school, it is imperative that the schools use discretion and research when choosing a safe charter bus company. The difference between a reputable and safe bus company and one that has failed to uphold the duty to provide a properly maintained bus and safe driver can literally be the difference between life and death. The Texas Bus Accident Lawyer at Hill Law Firm has handled motor coach accident lawsuits against some of the largest bus companies in the United States. In those cases, the importance of safe drivers and proper bus maintenance was highlighted. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a bus accident, and have questions, call the Texas Motorcoach Accident Injury Lawyer at Hill Law Firm today!