Georgia State Capitol 1904

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce held a forum on tort reform last week. According to today’s Daily Report, Rep. Rich Golick, chair of the House Non-Civil Judiciary Committee who is a corporate attorney for Allstate Insurance Company in his “day job,” told the attendees:

“Go talk to the plaintiffs bar. … See if consensus can be struck,” he said. “I beseech you — it’s the middle of August and there is a run-off and a general election — now is a great time for quiet conversation in quiet rooms where consensus

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Standards in the U.S. do not require buses to have either seat belts (except for the driver) or laminated glass in side windows that would prevent passenger ejection. If the manufacturers spent as much on safety as they do on lobbyists, a lot of lives could be saved. Almost anywhere else in the world, the same buses would have seat belts for all passengers.

The Bluffton University baseball team bus crash last March in Atlanta has led to the introduction of bipartisan legislation in Congress to tighten motor coach safety rules.  Introduced by  U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R., Texas), the proposed  the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2007 would require:

• Safety belts and stronger seating systems to ensure occupants stay in their seats in a crash.

• Anti-ejection glazing to prevent passengers from being easily thrown outside the motorcoach.

• Strong, crush-resistant roofs that can withstand rollovers.

• Improved protection against fires by reducing flammability of the motor-coach interior.

• Better training for operators in the case of fire.

• Improved commercial driver training. Currently, no training is required by federal regulation.

• Strengthened motor-coach vehicle safety inspections including roadside inspections, safety audits, and state and motor carrier programs for identifying vehicle defects.

• Electronic On-Board Recorders with real-time capabilities to track precise vehicle location, and recorded data not accessible to manipulation by a driver or motor carrier.

We are representing several of the Bluffton team members in cooperation with other lawyers in several states.

In yet another crash that highlights the lack of inadequacy of bus safety standards, two people were killed and two critically injured Saturday evening after a small charter bus hit a median wall and utility poles on I-85 southbound between the Monroe Drive and Buford Highway exits.  Two occupants were thrown from the bus into the northbound HOV lane.  The bus was operated by Greene Classic Limousines, which has a fleet of 46 vehicles.

Reportedly the there was a mechanical failure in the steering of the bus. News reports have not identified the make or model of the bus or why the occupants were ejected. However, this is the second bus crash on Atlanta freeways this year.  The crash on March 2 of a chartered tour bus carrying the Bluffton University baseball team focused attention on peculiar road design and omitted signs,  as well as the lack of seat belts and safety glass in buses in the United States.  (I represent several of the Bluffton players.) 

It is unlikely that any passengers on the Bluffton bus would have been ejected and killed if there had been passenger seat belts and safety glass in side windows, as are required in Europe and Australia.  If the same bus were purchased in virtually any country other than the US, it would have been so equipped.  In that case, a web search located an identical bus for sale in Turkey 3-point seat belts at all passenger positions, but due to federal regulations that give license to unsafe design, passenger seat belts are not standard equipment on buses in the US.  Recently I learned, however, that some tour bus companies have retrofitted full size motor coaches with seat belts for as little as $900 per bus. 

There is no legitimate safety reason for omitting from buses the seat belts and safety glass that would prevent passenger ejection. Similar bus wrecks in other countries, where buses have such safety equipment, have resulted in all passengers emerging with no serious injuries. About the only substantive defense for bus manufacturers in these cases is the preemption defense, by which their lobbying of federal agencies may shield them from accountability to the families of those who are injured and killed.  The federal regulations on bus safety are silent on these points, so lawyers in a pending case in Texas have what should be a good argument against preemption.