NTSB Study Shows Curbside Carriers Most Dangerous Bus Service

A bus making an early morning return trip from a Connecticut casino to New York City’s Chinatown overturned as it was passing through the Bronx. The March 2011 accident resulted in several serious injuries and 15 fatalities.

Passengers stated that prior to the accident the bus driver began driving erratically, even hitting the rumble strips on the side road several times. Eventually the bus driver lost control, resulting in the bus skidding 300 feet along the highways’ guardrail before overturning and slamming into a highway sign support-pole. The impact resulted in the pole peeling back the roof of the bus from the front to the rear tires.

The company that owned and operated the bus ran several buses on routes between Chinatown and casinos in Connecticut.

After this bus accident and several others in a relatively short time period, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) looked at the safety of bus travel in America, especially the safety of “curbside carriers.” The NTSB found that although most types of bus travel are safe with relatively few accidents, curbside carriers had notably higher accident and fatality rates.

Curbside Carriers

While curbside carrier is a term that is often used to describe a certain types of bus service, the term does not denote a specific type of operational or regulatory classification, according to the NTSB. For the purposes of its study, which specifically looks at the safety of this type of bus services, the NTSB defined curbside carriers as “motorcoach carriers [that] conduct scheduled trips from one city to another city or a destination and originate or terminate at a location other than a traditional bus terminal; most of these operations discharge passengers at one or more curbside locations.”

A total of 4,172 interstate motorcoach carriers were identified by the NTSB. The NTSB determined that 122 of those provided regular-route service, the over 4,000 others provided nonscheduled services, otherwise known as charter or tour services. Of the 122 regular-route service-providers, the NTSB used its definition to identify 71 carriers that operated curbside services.

Most of the bus companies the NTSB identified as curbside carriers were located in the Northeastern portion of the United States, in large metropolitan areas – with the most curbside carriers (16) being located in Pennsylvania.

NTSB Study

Using Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) data, the NTSB compared the safety records of the bus companies identified as curbside carriers to conventional motorcoach carriers.

According to the study, accidents and safety violations were most common among small bus carriers (operating fewer than 10 buses) that have been in business for 10 years or less – this describes a fair amount of curbside carriers.

Statistics from 2005 through March 2011 indicate the fatal crash-rate for curbside carriers was 1.4 fatal accidents per 100 buses, and the fatal crash-rate for conventional bus carriers was 0.2 fatal accidents per 100 buses. The NTSB notes that the fatal crash-rate does not apply to all curbside carriers, as some curbside carriers had very good safety records and others had very poor safety records.

Further, the NTSB study found that curbside carriers had higher out-of-service (OOS) rates due to driver violations compared to other motorcoach carriers. Curbside carriers represented only two percent of all carriers, yet these carriers accounted for six percent of all high inspection and violation rates. Drivers for curbside carriers also had higher rates for driver fitness or fatigued driving violations.

Why the Danger?

The NTSB study shows that in the last five years 96 percent of curbside carriers underwent FMCSA inspection and compliance reviews. However, due to a statutory exemption for motorcoaches and a lack of inspection sites (because they pickup and drop-off passengers at curbside locations), en route and unscheduled inspections to discover safety violations are difficult to perform on curbside carriers.

This lack of opportunity to inspect curbside carriers en route coupled with few employees qualified to conduct such inspections, drivers and curbside carriers are able to more often than not skirt rules meant to keep passengers safe, including hours driven and other violations of driver fitness.

Even though the NTSB found that generally bus transportation is very safe, the rash of high-profile fatal bus accidents throughout New York in the last year serve to remind of the dangers posed to passengers. Bus accidents occur for myriad of reasons and the results can be devastating, including fatalities. If you have been injured in a motorcoach or other bus accident, you should speak with an experienced New York personal injury attorney to learn about your legal rights and options.

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