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Boxer, Feinstein call for stronger bus safety rules

Posted: February 7, 2013 11:14 a.m.
Updated: February 7, 2013 11:14 a.m.
 

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (both D-CA) today wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to call for stronger bus safety rules in the wake of Sunday’s tragic crash in San Bernardino County, California. The crash occurred when a tour bus lost control, crashed into two vehicles and rolled over. Eight people died as a result of the crash, and many more were injured.

In their letter, Senators Boxer and Feinstein wrote, “The greatest tragedy of Sunday’s accident is that it was not an isolated incident. Since 1990, there have been more than 180 motorcoach crashes and fires, which have killed 334 people and injured more than 3,000. Many of these tragic deaths and injuries were entirely preventable.”

Currently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is in the process of investigating the crash, and while the cause is not yet known, early reports indicate that mechanical problems may have been contributing factors. The bus company had been cited for 58 violations of federal safety standards since October 2011, and has a safety record that falls within the bottom 25th percentile of all motorcoach operators in its class – and yet an on-site compliance review by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) last month resulted in a “satisfactory” safety rating for the company.

“If the NTSB’s investigation supports the allegations that mechanical failure contributed to this crash, this will raise serious concerns about the adequacy of federal oversight of the company’s record,” the Senators wrote.

The NTSB has repeatedly called for improvements to the FMCSA’s motorcoach safety rating system and oversight of vehicle inspections. The NTSB has also repeatedly recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) prescribe a variety of measures to reduce passenger mortalities and injuries during a crash, including improved roof strength and anti-ejection measures. Some of these recommendations are more than a decade old and have still not been adopted by the agencies.

Over the next two and a half years, the Department of Transportation will complete a number of bus safety studies and rulemakings authorized in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). In the letter, Senators Boxer and Feinstein urge FMCSA and NHTSA to use all available authorities to develop rules to address the NTSB’s previous safety recommendations as well as any new recommendations arising from the investigation of Sunday’s crash.

“We can and must do more to protect the safety of bus passengers,” the Senators wrote. “We urge the Department of Transportation to take bold steps to end this needless loss of life.”

The text of the letter follows:

February 7, 2013

The Honorable Ray LaHood

Secretary of Transportation

U.S. Department of Transportation

Washington DC 20590

Dear Secretary LaHood:

We are writing to request that the Department of Transportation coordinate closely with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to develop robust motorcoach safety regulations in the wake of Sunday’s horrific bus crash in San Bernardino County, California. This deadly accident occurred when a tour bus traveling to Tijuana on Route 38 careened out of control, crashed into two vehicles, and rolled over, ejecting passengers from the bus. Eight people died in or following the crash, and many more were injured.

The NTSB is in the midst of investigating the crash, so we do not yet know its cause. However, early reports from witnesses, passengers, and the bus driver indicate that mechanical problems may have been a factor.

According to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the company that operated the bus had a history of federal safety violations. Since October 2011, roadside inspectors have found 58 violations on the company’s vehicles, including 10 serious enough to require placing the vehicle out of service. Due to the number and severity of violations, the company’s safety record falls within the bottom 25th percentile of all motorcoach operators in its class. Yet, an on-site compliance review by the FMCSA last month resulted in a “satisfactory” safety rating for the company. If the NTSB’s investigation supports the allegations that mechanical failure contributed to this crash, this will raise serious concerns about the adequacy of federal oversight of the company’s record.

The NTSB has repeatedly advocated for improvements to the FMCSA’s motorcoach safety rating system and oversight of vehicle inspections. The NTSB has also repeatedly recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) prescribe a variety of measures to reduce passenger mortalities and injuries during a crash, including improved roof strength and anti-ejection measures. Some of these recommendations are more than a decade old and have still not been adopted by the agencies.

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (P.L. 112-141) required the FMCSA and NHTSA to complete a number of motorcoach safety studies and rulemakings to address these longstanding NTSB recommendations. These include measures to revise the existing motorcoach safety fitness rating system, develop more stringent state inspection programs, investigate potential safety retrofits for existing buses, and prescribe improved safety equipment requirements for new buses. We urge the FMCSA and NHTSA to use all available authorities to prescribe the strongest possible rules to address the NTSB’s outstanding motorcoach safety recommendations and any new recommendations arising from the investigation of Sunday’s crash.

The greatest tragedy of Sunday’s accident is that it was not an isolated incident. Since 1990, there have been more than 180 motorcoach crashes and fires, which have killed 334 people and injured more than 3000. Many of these tragic deaths and injuries were entirely preventable.

We can and must do more to protect the safety of bus passengers. We urge the Department of Transportation to take bold steps to end this needless loss of life.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer Dianne Feinstein

United States Senator United States Senator

CC: Anne S. Ferro, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

David L. Strickland, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

 

 

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