Rep. John Lewis Introduces Bus Passenger Safety Bill as Response to Atlanta Bluffton Accident
On March 2, 2007, the Bluffton University baseball team was traveling from Ohio to Florida for a tournament. Early in the morning, on Interstate 75 in Atlanta, its chartered bus, attempting to exit the highway, fell off an overpass and landed on its side on the road below. The crash resulted in the deaths of five members of the baseball team, the driver and his wife, and injuries for many of the other 33 passengers on-board.
As former Member of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, Rep. Lewis investigated why safety belts are not offered in passenger buses and on school buses. He remembered that in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity (SAFETEA-LU) Act of 2005 Congress demanded that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) develop a standard that bus manufacturers would have to adhere to reduce complete and partial ejections in crashes by October 1, 2009.
The Congressman was disturbed by how little progress had been made on this rule. In response, he submitted a reporting request to the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee. This request was accepted by the Subcommittee and included in the fiscal year 2008 appropriations bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year. Consequently, the bill demands that the NHSTA provide an interim report to Congress on the progress of the new safety rule by May 1, 2008.
Simultaneously, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) also took action in the Senate to introduce the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2007. Rep. Lewis will introduce a companion bill today in the House as the lead sponsor in the U.S. House of Representatives of this legislation. The bill requires the DOT to upgrade federal safety standards applicable to motorcoaches and take action to improve the operational requirements of drivers and companies. The legislation would lead to the adoption of available safety technologies, result in stronger oversight and compliance with federal safety rules, and encourage better training of motorcoach operators to protect passengers from death and injury due to ejection, rollover, roof crush, and fires. Specifically, the bipartisan legislation would require:
- Safety belts and stronger seating systems to ensure occupants stay in their seats in a crash;
- Improved commercial driver training. Currently, no training is required by federal regulation;
- Anti-ejection glazing on the body of the bus to prevent passengers from being easily thrown outside the motorcoach;
- Strong, crush-resistant roofs that can withstand rollovers;
- Improved protection against fires by reducing flammability of the motorcoach interior, and better training for operators in the case of fire;
- A National Commercial Motor Vehicle Medical Registry to ensure that only medically qualified examiners conduct physical examinations of drivers and a medical certificate process to ensure that all certificates are valid and no unqualified operator is allowed to drive;
- Strengthened motorcoach vehicle safety inspections including roadside inspections, safety audits, and state and motor carrier programs for identifying vehicle defects;
- Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) with real-time capabilities to track precise vehicle location, and recorded data not accessible to manipulation by a driver or motor carrier; and
- Tax credits and small business grants to assist motorcoach operators in managing the cost of adhering to these new safety standards
Subsequently, the NTSB released the Highway Accident Report for the Bluffton accident investigating the cause of the crash and recommendations for preventing future accidents. The report recommended the implementation of many provisions of this legislation, including the development of motorcoach occupant protection systems and passenger safety standards, the outfitting of motorcoaches with enhanced safety equipment and devices, and the development of on-board recording of bus-crash data.
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