Have you ever traveled on a chartered bus, tour bus, or motorcoach? Ever send your child off on a band trip or athletic excursion on a commercially operated bus? Chances are you have. In 2010, U.S. motorcoach companies provided nearly 700 million passenger trips. Bus transportation is an economical way to get from Point A to Point B, and it’s usually safe. But, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, on average, 21 occupants of motorcoaches and large buses are killed each year, and 7,934 are injured; between 2000 and 2009, there were 87 fatal crashes of motorcoaches, resulting in 209 fatalities.
Common Causes of Tour Bus Accidents in South Carolina
Poor maintenance – Just as it is important for private owners of motor vehicles to regularly maintain them so they will be safe and road worthy, it is important for bus companies to maintain their vehicles. Not only that, it’s the law! The U.S. Department of Transportation requires, in Code of Federal Regulations 396.3, that “[e]very motor carrier and intermodal equipment provider must systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.”
In February 2014, federal investigators shut down Motts Transportation, Inc., of Cordesville, SC, declaring their vehicles to be an “imminent hazard.” The company is alleged to have had no systematic vehicle inspection, repair and maintenance program. A roadside inspection performed in June 2013 found inoperable exits and defective brakes; the bus was taken out of service. A second roadside inspection in January 2014 found that the same bus still had defective brakes, and it was again taken out of service. In February 2014, investigators found that three out of the company’s five buses were inoperable and the remaining two had defects. The administrative legal proceeding is ongoing.
Driver Fatigue – Federal regulators also impose limits on hours of service (HOS) for drivers of buses which travel across state lines. In an effort to keep fatigued drivers off the road, the HOS regulations set specific limits on the amount of time a bus driver can be behind the wheel. No interstate motorcoach driver can drive more than 10 consecutive hours. No interstate bus driver can drive for any period after having been “on duty” for 60 hours in any 7 consecutive days (if the driver’s employer does not operate every day of the week) or 70 hours in any 8 consecutive days (if the driver’s employer does operate every day of the week).
Drivers are required to keep detailed log books. Unfortunately, carriers sometimes try to skirt the law.
In the case of Motts Transportation, the South Carolina company recently put out of service by the FMCSA, the carrier hired part-time drivers who worked for other motor carriers or employers. They logged the time spent driving for Motts, but did not include the time they had previously been on the road for another company. Drivers were found to be as much as 11 hours over the limit.
A March 2011 bus crash in New York killed 15 people, and police said driver fatigue was a factor.
In May 2011, a Sky Express bus on its way from Greensboro to New York crashed on Interstate 95 in Virginia, killing four people and injuring 50. Authorities say the driver fell asleep at the wheel.
Incompetent Drivers – It takes special skill to handle a motorcoach, and it’s especially important that a bus driver be well trained and properly licensed since the lives of innocent passengers are at stake. A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) with a passenger endorsement is required for every operator of a vehicle designed to transport 16 or more people, including the driver.
The February 2014 investigation found that Motts Transportation allowed at least one unqualified individual to operate a motorcoach. This driver was transporting passengers from Baltimore, MD, to Chester, SC, when she was stopped by the NC State Highway Patrol for speeding.
Distracted or Impaired Drivers – Under federal safety regulations, employers must conduct pre-employment drug testing, post-accident testing, random drug and alcohol testing, and reasonable-suspicion testing, as well as return-to-duty testing and follow-up testing for drivers who test positive or otherwise violate drug and alcohol program requirements. But many companies do not have such a review program. Just like it is when car accidents occur, distracted or impaired driving is suspected to be the cause of many bus crashes.
A Muskingum Coach crashed on June 2, 2013, on I-95 near Henderson, SC. It was carrying high school band students returning to Ohio after playing at Disney World. The driver ran off the road and crashed into a treed area, killing one and injuring two. The driver was a pharmacist who had lost his professional license for selling hydrocodone and falsifying records and served two years in prison. Prior to that, he had misbranded a drug and given a 16-month-old child a dosage of morphine five times greater than prescribed, resulting in the child’s hospitalization. He was nevertheless able to obtain a CDL and drive school children to events.
An accident on I-95 near St. George in December of 2010 sent nearly two dozen people to the hospital when a Greyhound bus struck the back of an 18-wheeler carrying logs. One of the logs came loose and went through the windshield of the bus.
Seeking Truth. Securing Justice.
When a bus accident occurs, state and national agencies will be on the scene, collecting and analyzing data. It is their job to seek the truth of the situation, to determine the cause of the accident.
But if your loved one has been injured or killed in a motorcoach crash, you’ll want somebody to take it to the next level – you’ll want to secure justice. That’s where the Louthian Law Firm comes in. Our South Carolina bus accident lawyers have 80 years of experience investigating motor vehicle crashes and protecting the rights of passengers. We know that the responsibility for a bus accident may be shared by multiple parties – from the driver to the bus company to the manufacturer of the vehicle or its defective parts.
Can a personal injury lawyer bring back a life or restore an accident victim’s health? We wish we could. What we can do is secure damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages and earning capacity, scarring or disfigurement, and the loss of enjoyment of life. Family members who lost a loved one may be compensated through a wrongful death claim.
If you or your loved one has been the victim of a vehicle accident involving a motorcoach, tour bus or chartered bus or even a school bus, call the Louthian Law Firm at 888-440-3211. We believe you deserve more than a chance – you deserve a voice. You deserve the truth. You deserve justice.