Bus fatalities per miles traveled have been steadily dropping in the U.S. since the fatality rate peaked in 1985. In fact, bus-related fatalities per miles traveled have drooped even from 2005. However, bus-related deaths are still an area of serious concern.
- May 31,2011: A commercial tour bus went off Interstate 95 in Virginia and flipped on its roof before dawn Tuesday, killing four people and injuring many more. The driver was charged with reckless driving and police say fatigue was a factor.
- March 12, 2011: A bus returning to New York City from a casino overturned on Interstate 95 in the Bronx was sliced in half by the support pole for a large sign. Fourteen people were killed. The NTSB reported the bus was speeding up to 78 mph. The operator, World Wide Travel, was being watched by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials after being cited five times for "fatigued driving" after previous crashes.
- March 14, 2011: A privately owned tour bus crashed into a guardrail and a concrete embankment on the New Jersey Turnpike and veered into a drainage ditch on the side of the highway, killing two people and injuring 40 others. The driver was thrown through the windshield and did not survive. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) declared the Pennsylvania-based bus company Super Luxury Tours, Inc. "an imminent hazard to public safety" and ordered the company to immediately cease all intrastate and interstate transportation services.
- September 11, 2010: Four people died after a double-decker megabus slammed into the railroad bridge in Salina, NY. The driver had missed a turn and was lost. The driver has been charged with four felony counts of criminally negligent homicide and failure to obey a traffic-control device.
In the North America, about 360 million people travel about 28 billion miles a year on about 30,000 commercial buses. While most of these passengers arrive safely at their destination, about 1,000 of them will be injured and 50 killed in a bus accident. Bus accidents were of such concern that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducted a large-scale study of bus accidents in 2009. Among the findings of that study were:
- Bus crashes were more likely to occur in cities than on cross-country routes
- Inner-city charter buses were particularly likely to be involved in an accident
- Causes of these accidents include: other vehicles stopping in a bus lane, abrupt lane changes in front of a bus, pedestrian suddenly crossing in front of a bus, and a bus traveling at an unsafe speed for the weather conditions.
School buses represent the largest form of mass transit in the United States, with about 9 million passengers annually (about double what transit buses transport). School bus accidents make up less than 1% of all motor vehicle accidents, but the number of deaths is still not unsubstantial. Since 1990, 1,450 people have been killed in a school-bus-related accident (some of these were occupants of other vehicles or pedestrians). The most common types of school bus accidents are impacts to the front end of the school bus, right-side impact, and rear impact.
While many things can cause a bus accident, including other drivers and pedestrians, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration concluded that in 15 out of 19 cases, the bus drivers were primarily at fault. Sometimes the fault was that they failed to recognize and respond to a potentially dangerous situation and thus got involved in an avoidable accident. Some bus accidents can be attributed to brake failure, electrical fires, or mechanical problems.
Human factors were involved in 90% of the bus accidents studied by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Human factors were considered to blame, even in cases where there other factors were involved, such as dangerous acts by other drivers or pedestrians or poor equipment, if the driver might reasonably have been expected to be able to recognize and compensate for the potential danger.
Bus accidents share much in common with other motor vehicle accidents, in that they often can be traced back to a driver who is distracted, drowsy (sleep-deprived), or impaired (drunk, stoned, high). The reason that bus-related accidents are so appalling is that they affect the lives of all of the passengers, magnifying the damage. For that reason, basic precautions should be taken to help protect the millions of people who rely on bus transportation:
- Bus drivers must be properly trained and cognizant of safety issues
- Drowsy driving should be prevented; this may involve enforcement of rules that limit the hours a driver may drive in a day
- Distracted driving should be prevented by not permitting bus drivers to use cell phones, talk to passengers, or otherwise entertain themselves with anything that takes their focus off the road. This may involve banning cell phones for bus drivers on duty.
- Periodic random drug screening may be useful to assure that bus drivers do not get behind the wheel when they have used drugs that would impair their ability to drive.