The tour bus crash in California in early February that killed several people and injured many more has everyone wondering about the safety conditions of tour buses and credentials of tour bus drivers. Was this an isolated incident? Probably not. In other incidents, a crash occurred as a result of the driver losing control when the bus started sliding down a hill in icy conditions. Another tour bus crashed when the driver suffered a fatal heart attack and, again, lost control of the vehicle.
Tour bus excursions are popular for those who want social interaction and travel with a chance to see the country that one might not see otherwise if travelling by plane. The tour company makes bus tours affordable, and often adds amenities like vouchers for meals, free lunch or drinks at the destinations, or special sleeping accommodations for those who pay a little extra. Comfort on the road makes for an enjoyable vacation. But, as with any type of motor vehicle accident, a bus accident can occur in a split second from driver error, or from being hit by an oncoming vehicle or other road obstruction. What makes buses different, and what is the likelihood of injury while on a tour bus?
With the length and weight of larger buses like tour buses and motor coaches, it can be probable for bus drivers to lose control of the vehicle for many reasons. Drivers are often required to work at least ten hours and, while they shouldn’t, may choose to drive through the night to create the best experience for passengers arriving at their destination the next day. Venturing into a new area could pose all types of unexpected driving conditions, as well. Some drivers may not have experience driving in inclement weather or a sudden change in weather that may take a turn for the worse. They also travel, at times, at high rates of speed to arrive at the destination more quickly, in an effort to please their passengers. But, sometimes that quick driving and lack of control can prove deadly.
The American Bus Association reports that 700 million people are transported by tour buses every year, and that overall the number of accidents is very low. They further assert that bus travel is a very safe mode of transportation. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provides a way for travelers to review the bus company’s performance record, vehicle conditions and driver statistics before booking, and they have developed a phone application that can be loaded on most mobile phones for investigating the same information. In the case of the recent bus crash in California, further investigation has so far revealed that the company had been remiss at removing buses with faulty brakes and axles from their fleet.
Before you embark on a bus or motor coach tour, here are some items you might want to use to investigate a company before your journey begins.
- Research the bus company using the tools provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Just because you really want to go to an out-of-state casino or see what Niagara Falls looks like doesn’t mean your options are limited to the first bus company you find. And, cheaper is not always better.
- When possible, visit the company first-hand and look at the fleet of buses. How old are the buses, and when are the buses scheduled for replacement? Ask for a tour of the premises. A good company will comply with your request to show off their well-maintained vehicles.
- Ask about the driver’s history. You assume that the driver has been a driver for a number of years. Most drivers are required to be licensed for three or more years. You assume the driver knows more than you do about the route, providing expert tips and historical facts along the way. But, what if the driver is new to the region, or new to bus driving? Your driver should know the designated route, be aware ahead of time of any impending detours, be certified in first aid and CPR, and have a stable demeanor. The last thing you want is to be on a bus with a driver who is afraid of traffic, or likes to speed excessively.
If you have been involved in a tour bus or motor coach accident, knowing some of this information may be useful when you meet with an attorney who is renowned for handling these type of cases. You might not be able to control all aspects of the operations of the bus company, but you can do some investigating to make sure you are protecting yourself the best you can.