Three Tips on How to Choose a Safe Motor Coach Company

How to choose a motor coach company to avoid accidentsAfter the horrific death of 15 people in a motor coach on its way back to New York City from a Connecticut casino on March 12, those contemplating taking a motor coach or excursion bus might be thinking twice. WalletPop looked into the industry and has some tips on how to choose a motor coach company.

First, is this a dangerous option? According to the Department of Transportation, motor coaches transport around 750 million passengers a year, while averaging 19 fatalities per year, or around 2.5 fatalities per 100 million miles.

By comparison, in 2009 there were 1.13 fatalities for all traffic (trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians) per 100 million miles, so no, motor coach travel isn't necessarily safer than car transportation, But still, the chance of a fatal crash are very slight.So how can you minimize this chance even further? Look at three things:

1. It's All About the driver

When it comes to bus safety, the primary variable to consider is the driver. Does he or she appear alert and competent?

The driver's hours are limited by federal law; he can only drive 10 hours a day and spend 60 hours on-duty during a seven-day period.

However, there aren't a lot of other federal regulations covering the driver. Licensing takes place at the state level, usually a commercial driving license with the appropriate endorsements. But the Department of Transportation hopes to develop more regulations.

One, which seems like a no-brainer, is a restriction on cell phone use by a motor coach driver. If your driver is texting or talking at length on a cell phone, this compromises your safety.

Another is better background checks of drivers. In the New York accident, for example, the driver was discovered to have been a multiple-time felon, hardly the kind of person you'd want driving your bus. The DOT has proposed setting up better background screening and a national drug and alcohol testing database.

As part of this new program, the DOT hopes to also track drivers' medical conditions, since some medicines and medical conditions would compromise the driver's ability.

Before hiring a motor coach, you might ask the company how they vet their drivers.

2. Check out the Equipment

The number-one cause for fatalities in motor coach accidents, according to the government's Fatality Analysis Reporting System data, is the "ejection of passengers from the vehicle onto hard roadway or other environmental surfaces."

Given this, it's puzzling why seat belts aren't mandated in motor coaches, but they aren't. The wise passenger would make sure the motor coach has them, however, before buying a ticket.

There are structural concerns to motor coach design, as called out by the National Transportation Safety Board in a recent report. One of its safety recommendations is for improved roof strength. As witnessed by the New York accident, the superstructure at the window line and above can be frail, and prone to collapse in a rollover incident. While it's hard for the consumer to weigh the quality of manufacturing of motor coaches, we can keep our fingers crossed that new generations of them will be built with this in mind.

In the meantime, give the motor coach the same kind of inspection you would your own vehicle; the NTSB determined that 13% of crashes are caused by faulty equipment. Does it appear well maintained? Balding tires, cracked lights and a general sense of disregard are clues that you should seek out a different ride.

3. Check out the Company

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is tasked with overseeing the safety of the motor coach carrier industry, and it makes a great deal of its information about individual motor coach companies available for you on the Internet. Take, for example, World Wide Travel; its record shows that an alert has been placed on it for fatigued driving, something a wise traveler might take into consideration.

The same report also rates companies on vehicle maintenance, which will help you evaluate the safety of the motor coach.

Also be on the lookout for "chameleon" companies, companies that lost their right to haul passengers for repeated violations, and reform under a different name to pick up where they left off. Longevity in the business probably speaks well of a company.

Motor coaches can offer an inexpensive, stress-free way to travel. Don't let down your guard, though; check out the company before you leave the driving to them.

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