05/01/2009

AFT Pushes for Improved Motor Coach Safety

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.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood ordered a full review of motor coach safety on April 30, following a briefing earlier in the week by the AFT and the American Association of Classified School Employees (AACSE). At the briefing, the groups lobbied for a new law that would improve the safety of charter buses often used to take students on field trips and to band and sporting events.

The U.S. Department of Transportation plans to release its findings and an action plan by August, taking into account several recommendations for improving motor coach safety by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Here are some of the differences between school bus and motor coach safety, which Congress could fix by passing the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, S. 554 and H.R. 1396:

First, there's little or no regulation on the design and construction of motor coaches, also known as charter buses, compared with rigorous regulation of school buses. As a result, motor coaches lack rollover protection, and their occupants often are crushed during accidents. In addition, motor coaches are susceptible to fire, have poorly designed windows, and have fewer emergency exits than school buses.

Second, drivers of these vehicles do not have to meet the same qualifications as school bus drivers. In fact, motor coaches are the most unregulated commercial vehicles on the road today, says George Williams, newly elected AACSE president and a leader of the AFT-affiliated Florida Education Association.

During the April 27 briefing, AFT member Karen Barnes (left, in green shirt), a bus driver/trainer from Austin, Texas, described some of the disparities in qualifications of drivers, with school bus drivers typically receiving much more extensive and ongoing training than motor coach drivers.

As a result of these differences in bus construction and driver qualifications, more than 400 people have been killed in motor coach crashes since 2000.

To raise awareness and lobby for a uniform safety standard, the AFT and other affiliates of the AACSE, including the Oregon School Employees Association, joined highway safety advocates at the briefing in Washington, D.C., calling for new rules on stability control in motor coaches to protect against rollovers, as well as additional National Transportation Safety Board recommendations for improved window design and stronger roofs.

Since parents and the public expect vehicles used in transporting students to be as safe as school buses and driven by trained professionals, the AFT passed a resolution earlier this year calling for federal legislation that requires motor coaches used in transporting preK-12 students, as well as their drivers, to meet the same standards that apply to school buses and school bus drivers.

May 1, 2009