Buses can be a convenient and affordable means of transportation for many Americans. Many people – often college students, use Megabus coaches and other bus companies to get home for the holidays or to travel between cities for other reasons. Statistics show that bus transportation is on the rise. But unfortunately, buses are not always held to the highest safety standards.
According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), around 160 fires occur on intercity buses each year. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), intercity bus services also have higher rates of fatal accidents and more driver violations. These statistics combined with inadequate safety standards means that intercity bus travel is more likely to result in unnecessary injuries than other means of travel.
The following list of safety measures demonstrates the discrepancies between vehicle safety requirements and bus safety requirements and the lack of urgency by the DOT to make changes.
- Seatbelts. Seatbelts have been required in cars for over forty years, but have only recently been required in buses. It was not until 2013 that the DOT required all new buses be equipped with seatbelts.
- Electronic stability control. Electronic stability control helps drivers maintain control of a vehicle when the vehicle loses stability or control on the road. This feature has been required on cars since 2007, and was not required on buses until 2015.
- Stronger roofs and other technology to prevent rollovers. A common safety issue with buses is the propensity for buses to roll over in an accident. Stronger roofs would keep passengers safer in the event of a rollover, and other technology could help reduce the likelihood of a rollover. The DOT has not implemented these requirements, and Congress has also not provided sufficient funding for these requirements.
- Data recorders. Commonly called “black boxes,” these devices record data in the event of an accident. They are required on planes and trains, but not on buses. Black boxes on buses would help investigators figure out what caused or contributed to accidents so that the department can better tailor its safety requirements.
- Safer doors and windows. Safely exiting a bus after an accident can be very difficult, especially if there has been a rollover, or if there is fire and smoke. A number of fatalities have occurred because passengers were unable to exit the bus after the accident. Additionally, some emergency exit doors must be held open instead of staying open on their own. Changes to ensure that more doors and windows can remain open for passengers would help save lives and prevent injuries.
- Less flammable interiors. Since many bus accidents, injuries, and fatalities involve fires, the flammability of bus interiors is important. But when compared to planes and trains, the flammable interior standards for buses are much lower, and outdated. Changes to make bus interiors less flammable would undoubtedly be much safer for passengers.
The DOT is slowly making changes to make bus travel safer, but it is clear that the changes that have actually been implemented are moving at a snail’s pace, and there are countless additional changes that have yet to be made. This is alarming news since intercity bus travel is on the rise. As bus travel continues to increase, Congress and the DOT must make significant strides in bus safety.
About The Author: Jason Konvicka is a partner and trial attorney with Allen & Allen in Richmond, Virginia. During his 20+ year career, he has achieved numerous record-setting jury verdicts and substantial settlements on behalf of his clients. His practice focuses on medical malpractice, bus accidents and product liability personal injury cases. Outside of the courtroom, Jason is involved with the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and currently serves on its Board of Governors as Vice President.
 According to a 2012 report. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/14/opinion/bus-passengers-deserve-a-safe-ride.html?_r=0.
 According to a 2011 report. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/14/opinion/bus-passengers-deserve-a-safe-ride.html?_r=0.
 See US Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (January 1, 1968). “Title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301, Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208 – Occupant Crash Protection Passenger Cars”; http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/14/opinion/bus-passengers-deserve-a-safe-ride.html?_r=0.