Fatal crashes prompt bus safety hearing

A Senate panel will examine bus safety in a hearing next week in the wake of two Northeast bus crashes that killed more than 15 people.

“The tragic series of bus crashes in New Jersey and the Northeast have exposed serious weaknesses in the safety of our nation’s bus system,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the  chairman of the Senate Transportation’s Surface Transportation subcommittee, said in a statement.

“Just because bus companies discount prices doesn’t mean they can discount safety. This hearing will examine current bus safety practices and explore additional areas where we can improve protections for passengers,” he said.

Lautenberg had promised to hold the hearing on bus safety shortly after the two deadly bus crashes in the New York-New Jersey area.

He has also called for the Department of Transportation to more strictly enforce rules on bus safety.

“These two crashes are reminders that we must never be complacent in safeguarding the public and promoting the highest level of safety in the commercial motorcoach industry," he wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last week.

“As a result, I write to respectfully urge the Department of Transportation to make swift progress on motorcoach safety.”

The ranking Republican on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), wrote an op-ed for The Hill last week saying the time had come to require seatbelts on buses.

“Beginning on Jan. 1, 1968, a revolutionary new safety device designed to protect passengers in high-speed collisions was required in every automobile sold in America,” Hutchison wrote. “That device was a seatbelt. But the groundbreaking law requiring seatbelts for U.S. passenger vehicles had one exception: buses.”

The committee hearing next Wednesday is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.