A ticket to ride, not a ticket to die

Congress needs to eliminate the enroute driver and vehicle inspection prohibition in federal law that was enacted in 2005. The industry also needs to stop making unfounded excuses why these inspections should not occur.

Enroute inspections are a critical tool to aid law enforcement in helping to root out and take aggressive action on the illegal and unsafe commercial operators. And yet with more valuable "cargo" at stake, buses aren't subject to one of the most effective means to prevent highway crashes and deaths. Available data illustrates the stark difference between roadside driver and vehicle truck and bus safety inspections. In 2010, there were 3,570,353 truck inspections but only 65,284 motorcoach and bus inspections conducted by state law enforcement - a 60 to 1 ratio. To protect the public we must reverse this trend.

Predictably, some interests oppose enroute inspections.

One reason that gains popularity during a weak economy and austere state budgets is the cost of driver and vehicle safety inspections to the taxpayer. However, based on data analysis conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration the benefit-to-cost ratio for the roadside inspection and compliance review programs is 18:1.

This means that for every tax dollar spent, 18 dollars in safety benefits are accrued. This is a tremendously great investment of taxpayer money. In particular, each roadside inspection is worth $2,414.26 in safety benefits.

Another claim against enroute inspections is that they put passengers and law enforcement at risk. There is no irony at play as these inspections would be done with the utmost safety and would also be typically done at roadside weigh stations, rest areas or other facilities where trucks are usually inspected. 

Law enforcement receives extensive training on safety during traffic stops and in the proper conduct of commercial vehicle inspections. Again, the inspector's goal is to verify regulatory compliance and to identify any driver or mechanical problems that would truly endanger the safety of the passengers while the bus is traveling on the highway.

What makes enroute inspections even more critical to ensuring safety is how many unsafe, "curbside" and illegal operators run their business. Often, these companies do not operate from a fixed place of business or terminal and their origin and destination locations change rapidly to evade inspection. Recent strike force efforts across the country have made clear that some carriers are actively avoiding inspection by changing their pick up and drop off locations on the fly. These carriers are using shuttle vans to off load motor coaches and move passengers around current law enforcement inspection sites.

Ultimately, it is puzzling that the same legislation that encourages inspections on trucks discourages inspections on buses. 

Which cargo is more important?  

In answering, consider that the current driver out of service (OOS) rate for the motorcoach and bus inspections conducted in 2010 was 4.9 percent. If the roadside inspection prohibition was lifted and the number of bus inspections were to simply double to 130,568, that would result in an additional 1,305 drivers placed out of service. If each of those drivers were carrying 50 passengers that would mean 65,250 passengers would be removed from an imminent hazard situation and out of harm's way - equivalent to 435 airplanes full of passengers (737 Model). By any measure that is a serious improvement that cannot continue to be pushed under the rug. 

Congress must act now to remove this prohibition in the law.

Stephen A. Keppler is executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.