Buses are commercial vehicles, whether engaged in public or private use. Consequently, the bus companies or owners and the drivers are held to higher standards of care than drivers of passenger vehicles since they are transporting passengers for a fee.
Buses, like trucks, are regulated by government agencies. If a bus crosses state lines with passengers, it is involved in interstate commerce and its operations are governed by the rules and regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). These rules concern standards on vehicle inspections, driver qualifications, drug and alcohol testing and driving times for operators among others. Should an accident occur and a violation is found, the driver and company can be deemed liable for any injuries to passengers or other motorists.
There are certain classes of buses that may be within the regulatory power of the FMCSA or at least under the laws of the state where it operates:
- Cross country or interstate
School buses, shuttles and metro vehicles are typically intrastate vehicles and so are subject to its state and local regulations. However, if the bus is contracted with or has a ticketing or interlining arrangement with an interstate carrier, then it is considered to be engaged in interstate commerce so that federal laws apply. Any vehicle designed to transport at least 8 persons, including the driver, for compensation is a commercial vehicle for purposes of passenger transportation.
Buses are also required to carry minimum levels of liability insurance coverage. If FMCSA regulations apply, a bus that can transport between 9 and 15 passengers must provide $1.5 million in coverage. If designed for 16 or more, the minimum coverage is $5 million. For intrastate vehicles, they must possess the highest amount mandated in the state in which it operates.
Causes of Bus Accidents
Buses are unwieldy vehicles and drivers must be specially trained. Many crashes occur because of inexperience but these other factors account for most bus accidents:
- Intoxication or drug impairment
- Equipment defects and mechanical problems
- Excessive speed
- Handling difficulties
- Poor training
- Lax hiring practices regarding drivers
- Lack of insufficient drug testing policies
- Falsification of driver records, maintenance logs and drug and alcohol tests
Before a trip, the brake and steering systems must be inspected as well as the tires and interior. Drivers must be rested, drug and alcohol-free and trained in safely operating the vehicle.
Most buses are not required to have seat belts so if a crash occurs, passengers can be ejected from their seats onto the floors, into the backs of seats and into windows and into other passengers. In a high speed collision, a bus can roll over and lead to crushing injuries. Other types of injuries include:
- Traumatic head injuries
- Broken bones
- Facial injuries
- Spinal injuries
- Damage to internal organs
A bus accident can trigger thorough investigations by local police as well as by experts from the FMCSA if the bus was an interstate vehicle. Along with a thorough examination of the vehicle for possible mechanical failures, drivers are tested and the records of the company are examined to determine if violations have occurred.
Many buses are equipped with monitoring devices that are similar to black boxes found on airplanes that can record the last few minutes of the bus’s operation and provide evidence of mechanical or equipment malfunction or driver error.
Bus crashes can present complicated issues of liability and proof. Look for an attorney who is skilled and experienced in handling commercial vehicle collisions.
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