Tour bus companies: a safety lesson
The tour bus could make or break your vacation.
By Robert Janis
Whenever travel on the highways is involved, safety should be a top priority. There is no exception when selecting a bus company for your tour. Several elements are involved in the issue of safety when bus tour companies are concerned: The condition of the bus, the driver, the length of time a tour bus company has been in business, and the company’s safety record. A bus tour company’s understanding of laws and regulations and its involvement in such organizations as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), as well as its compliance to U.S. Department of Transportation and Department of Defence regulations is also important.
One issue that is up front for you to actually see is the tour bus itself.
The age of the fleet used by a tour bus company should be considered. The latest models of buses should be in the fleet. The later, the better. Many companies like USA Bus Charter say that they replace their buses after 10 years of service. They also point out that there are bus companies that own buses that are as old as 25 years. Inquire with the bus tour company about the age of their fleet.
If at all possible, go to the tour bus company and inspect their buses. Check the interior, the exterior and underneath. Look at the tires including the tread depth and examine the seat covers, dents, bumps, scratches and cleanliness. If all of that is not up to your standards, then it is possible that the company is not concerned with safety and appearance as a top priority.
If things look good after a visual inspection, don’t be afraid to ask questions concerning things you don’t see.
The driver of a tour bus, not the president of the tour bus company, is probably the most important employee.
When push comes to shove, it is the skills of the driver that ensures that the bus gets to its destination on time and that the trip is safe.
Of course, you would expect that the driver has experience. Industry standards call for drivers to have at least three years of bus driving experience. Some companies are stricter and require a little more - as much as five years or more.
Of course, the more experience they have, the more skilled they are in driving the bus. But they should also be knowledgeable of the routes they are expected to drive be able to find alternative routes should the need arise - an important element in assuring that you get to the destination on time.
You will want the driver to be emotionally balanced. It’s been said that there are three types of drivers (not necessarily bus drivers): the passive, the aggressive and the hostile. Of course, you want a driver who is passive. You would expect him to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front, not speed, slow down when it is raining, drive with caution at night, etc.
You want the driver’s schedule to be such that it doesn’t change his sleep patterns.
Commonly, drivers are expected to drive 10 hours. A driver who has a schedule of sleeping at night should stick to that. He should not be expected to drive all night. It is better to be safe and permit the driver to either share the duties with someone who could drive at night or allow him to pull the coach into a motel where he and the passengers can get a good night’s sleep before proceeding on a grueling trip of 1,000 miles without rest.
The behavior of passengers on the bus – that means you - is another overlooked responsibility of the driver. How you act can be a safety issue. It is not a bad thing for the driver to pleasantly remind passengers of such etiquette as remaining seated when the bus is in motion, move to the restroom by holding on to overhead racks, handrails or headrests to assure good footing, and to never stand up before the bus has come to a stop. Further, any activity that could prove to be distracting to the driver should be minimized if not totally avoided.
A Company’s Record
The longer a company has been in business, the better chance that it will be well managed and have a good safety record. The companies that don’t have a good safety record won’t be in business for any length of time.
One entity that assists you in the research of a company’s record is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov).
The organization’s website includes a safety and security page that provides all sorts of information including a safety database, a snapshot or profile of particular companies and safety initiatives.
Moreover, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department of Defence have regulations that tour bus companies are expected to follow. For example, the Department of Transportation requires tour bus companies to prove that their drivers are fully qualified. Companies that comply require that their drivers have a current commercial driver’s license with a passenger endorsement, undergo a thorough physical and hold a valid medical certificate.
You can find out more by visiting the U.S. Department of Transportation website at http://www.ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/Passenger/home.asp.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is involved in regulating motor coach safety because these companies are often used by military personnel and the DOD wants to make certain that their troops are safe. The DOD monitors the bus industry through the Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC). This part of the DOD implements and maintains a “pre-qualification” process.
The DOD will not allow any bus company to transport military personnel until its buses have been inspected by the MTMC. The MTMC also analyzes a carrier’s performance, reliability and responsiveness. The MTMC has a rating system that uses a scale of 1 to 5.The best rating is 1 and the worst is 5. Companies rated from 1 to 3 are approved to transport military personnel. More on the MTMC can be found at their website.
Finally, nothing is perfect. Things go wrong. The best companies, however, provide a mechanism to make the wrong right. To assure that such a remedy can take place, you should find out who to contact in the company when something does go wrong. Some companies equip their drivers with cell phones that permit them to call the company to help solve a problem that the driver can’t.