Motorcoach Safety: Agency Provides Guidance For Booking a Safer Trip

This article originated in the June/July 2015 issue of Safe Ride News.

A motorcoach is a large, non-school bus that does not serve fixed routes (like city transit), but instead travels longer distances, usually on highways.  While motorcoaches have a relatively good safety record compared to most other vehicle types, they do not have many of the safety features required of school buses.  Nonetheless, groups of children frequently use these types of buses for field trips and sports outings, especially when the trip covers long distances.

Prompted by what was learned from investigations of crashes involving motorcoaches in recent years, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation that oversees large trucks and buses, will require all new motorcoaches to have lap-shoulder belts as of November 2016 (see SRN July/August 2009 and Nov/Dec 2013).  Despite this official deadline, virtually all bus makers have complied early by providing lap-shoulder belts on new buses since 2013, so these newer buses certainly have an added level of safety.

While equipment improvements such as these are important, many other factors contribute to overall carrier safety, including driver training, fitness, consecutive hours behind the wheel, and fleet maintenance.  However, many school districts across the county follow a completely informal process when booking a carrier, which fails to ensure that the event coordinator is guided toward hiring a company that has a proven safety record.

The FMCSA hopes to rectify this haphazard approach by establishing recommended procedures and a program called “Look Before You Book.”  By going to the FMCSA website or downloading the free SaferBus app from a phone’s app provider, any citizen can look up various aspects of a carrier’s safety record, including incident history, hours-of-service compliance record, driver fitness, controlled substance/alcohol violations, and the vehicle maintenance record.

The FMCSA says a proper procedure involves:

  • Selecting carriers only from a list of preapproved companies that is maintained and updated annually by an organization like the state board of education.
  • Developing a contract for each specific trip that specifies details, such as the itinerary, number of drivers needed for the length of trip, and fees.  It also should prohibit the subcontracting of contracted services.
  • Requiring a “departure walk-through” procedure, including a pretrip maintenance check by the driver or mechanic, and a meeting between the driver and event coordinator to check over credentials (such as the driver’s license and DOT medical card) and discuss other details.  The student passengers also should be briefed on safety features, just as they would on a school bus.