Safety groups want bus regs sped up after Calif. crash

A coalition of safety groups are encouraging the Department of Transportation (DOT) to speed up a series of bus trip regulations that are currently stuck in place after a recent high-profile crash involving high school student who were on a college bus tour.

The crash the groups were referring to occurred when a bus carrying high school students from the Los Angeles area collidedwith a FedEx truck in Orland, Calif. earlier this month. The accident resulted in the deaths of 10 students and chaperones who were traveling on the bus to visit Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif.

The safety groups said the California bus crash showed the transportation department should be moving more quickly to finalize regulations about issues such as requiring seat belts to be installed on large buses.

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"The horrific fiery crash on April 11, 2014, in Orland, California of a Federal Express (FedEx) double-trailer combination truck into a Silverado Stages motorcoach carrying 48 passengers and killing ten people including
five teenagers, sheds light on serious problems in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) conduct and implementation of provisions enacted in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Act," the groups wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

"Several long overdue improvements recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board were mandated by Congress in MAP-21 to improve the safety of motorcoach passengers and to prevent ejection of occupants, as appears to have occurred in the Orland crash," the letter continued. "Unfortunately, it seems certain that these regulations will not be issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by the two-year deadline set in statute, and research to enhance occupant survival in the event of a motorcoach fire has not been completed." 

Congress required he transportation department to initiate the rule making process on several recommendations to boost safety in the 2012 transportation bill that was approved by lawmakers after a series of high-profile accidents.

The safety groups said Monday that the transportation department has prioritized rules to allow freight trucks to weigh more because they are being pushed for by businesses.

"By contrast, however, the DOT Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study (Study), also required by MAP-21, is hurtling toward its conclusion despite numerous problems identified by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and safety groups regarding bias, lack of objective data and highly questionable analytical methods," the safety groups wrote.

"Serious, legitimate and lingering concerns have been well-documented but brushed aside by the lead agency, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in its rush to judgment. These on-going problems will prejudice the outcome of the Study and unfairly favor efforts by corporate trucking interests to increase federal truck size and weight limits to the detriment of safety for all road users," the groups letter continued. 

The safety groups said they would like to see the DOT have the same seal for boosting passenger bus safety.

"The Orland crash underscores the need to expedite critical motorcoach safety improvements that were addressed in MAP-21 but still do not appear to be high priorities of the DOT," the groups wrote. "The statute directs DOT to issue standards that prescribe roof strength and structural integrity requirements, as well as anti-ejection countermeasures, including consideration of advanced window glazing, by October 1, 2014. To date, the NHTSA has not even published a notice of proposed rulemaking on either issue." 

Other regulations boosting charter bus have fared similarly poorly, according the groups.

"Also languishing are mandated provisions that direct the issuance of a final rule to equip motorcoaches with stability enhancing technology to prevent rollovers within two years, and to require tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) and improved tire performance within three years," the groups wrote. "The 2009 DOT Motorcoach Safety Action Plan state that most of these issues were going to be addressed, if not resolved, by 2010 or 2011. Again, there has been no rulemaking activity in these areas."

The letter was signed by members of the Citizens for Reliable and Safety Highway (CRASH), Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), Road Safe America, Truck Safety Coalition, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Center for Auto Safety, Consumer Federation of America, KidsAndCars.org and Trauma Foundation.

The Hill is checking with the transportation department for a response to the letter from the safety groups.