After a review of government records and news reports, USA Today has found that the number of fatal bus accidents is much higher than the government reports. Some of the most disastrous motor coach accidents of the past decade — including a widely publicized crash in Tallulah, La., that killed eight people in 2003 — are not included in statistics of fatalities available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This is the government agency responsible for tracking accidents.
USA TODAY also found that NHTSA has undercounted motor coach accidents and deaths on the nation’s highways since at least 1995 and has supplied inaccurate numbers in testimony before Congress and in public reports on bus safety. NHTSA’s failure to track all the accidents has given Congress and the public a false impression that buses are safer than they are and has thwarted efforts to promote tougher regulation, according to safety advocates. Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of the non-profit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told USA Today: “By underreporting crashes and fatalities, it has given the industry the political cover they want to go to (Capitol) Hill and say, We are really safe.”
USA TODAY found at least 42 deaths of motor coach occupants and drivers were not reported using NHTSA’s standard definition of a motor coach from 1995 to 2009, the most current year for which data are available. Since 2003, 32 fatalities were not included, which represents a 24% increase from the 133 deaths the agency counted. In addition, there were 42 deaths from 2000 to 2009 on midsize buses, which are not counted by NHTSA as motor coach fatalities. The NHTSA data suggests that motor coach crashes and fatalities have surged in recent years even as highway deaths as a whole have fallen 25% since 2005.
Regardless of the number of deaths, the Obama administration has aggressively tried to improve motor coach safety. The government has doubled the number of surprise inspections of buses, and last year, it proposed requiring seat belts on motor coaches. NHTSA spokeswoman Lynda Tran says the agency is working with state officials to improve the quality of data it receives on accidents.
Source: USA Today
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