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Stricter safety regulations demanded after New York bus accident

This month, a New York bus crash caused the death of 15 passengers. According to politicians and safety advocates, the fatal bus accident was a result of lax safety regulations. Washington regulators have little control over the individuals hired to drive tour buses and must rely on handwritten logbooks in order to evaluate the drivers' awareness.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash to determine the exact causes of the accident and investigators are looking into whether the proper tools were in place to guarantee the safety of the passengers. Buses are required to maintain safety guidelines and drivers are allowed to be behind the wheel for a maximum of 10 hours during a 15-hour workday. State officials will often conduct random roadside inspections to ensure that all safety regulations are being followed.

Tour bus drivers only need a state-issued commercial driver's license in order to work for a transportation company. Transportation companies do not have to follow any federal requirements when screening new hires, so they have broad discretion during the hiring process.

The driver involved with the recent accident had been previously arrested for driving with a suspended license. The driver also served a two-year prison sentence after being convicted of manslaughter in 1990. According to an anonymous source, the driver was released from prison for the second time in May 2002 after serving four years for theft charges.

New York's inspector general has been ordered to look into the driver's record to determine if he should have ever been issued a state license to drive a bus.

Drivers must keep a detailed log of their route so that employers can inspect the total miles driven as well as any time spent off-duty. However, the Vice President at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said that these logs are often falsified or incomplete. The transportation company involved in the fatal accident allegedly had several logbook violations prior to the accident.

Transportation Department spokesmen have said that safety is their number one priority and that they are working hard to install electronic recorders in buses that will log hours and check for potential violations. However, the Senate rejected a bill in 2010 that would have required the installation of electronic recorders as well as the implementation of other bus safety regulations.

Source: The New York Times, "Lax Rules for Discount Buses Cited After I-95 Crash," Michael M. Grynbaum and Patrick McGeehan, 3/15/2011

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