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Nov 6

NTSB Motorcoach Driver Fatigue Contradiction is Exhausting

Agency ignores own focus groups of drivers, inspectors exposing inadequate driver sleep at 2016 Fatal California Bus Crash Hearing

Silver Spring, MD – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) contradicted their own focus groups of drivers and federal inspectors at their recent hearing on the fatal 2016 California bus crash. The focus groups exposed the lack of sleep for motorcoach drivers due to employer pressure to work.

“It’s exhausting that the NTSB continues to ignore their own research that their own inspectors and motorcoach drivers tell them inadequate sleep and employer pressure to drive as long as possible is a serious industry-wide problem. They just buried this research and said ‘oh it’s just a medical problem - driver sleep apnea – causing driver fatigue and we need better testing of drivers.’ It’s the highest form of negligence, putting peoples’ lives at-risk,” says Larry Hanley, International President of ATU, representing Greyhound and other motorcoach workers.

A few years ago, the NTSB conducted focus groups of motorcoach drivers, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) safety investigators, and state motor carrier inspectors for a study on “Safety Challenges and Oversight in the Motorcoach Industry” conducted by the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. The focus groups found the following:

  • Drivers described problems with getting sufficient sleep, pressure to drive longer than permitted, and fears of motor carriers giving them less work if they turned down driving jobs.
  • Another contributor to fatigue described by drivers was holding multiple jobs to earn adequate income. Their multiple jobs sometimes were said to lead to hours-of-service violations from driving after on-duty limits had been reached.
  • Drivers said dozing behind the wheel happened all the time, especially early in their career.
  • State inspectors and federal safety investigators expressed concern about the extended work hours permitted by current hours-of-service rules for motorcoach drivers, pointing out that these work hours can lead to fatigue.
  • State investigators and federal safety investigators expressed concern about falsified logbooks, inadequate sleep among motorcoach drivers, practices by motorcoach carriers to mask ownership and avoid oversight, and difficulties keeping up with the rapid motorcoach industry growth.

Bus companies can get away with this because of an outdated loophole that allows employers of over-the-road bus drivers to be exempt from overtime provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Drivers are overworked which leads to driver fatigue – the number one cause of motorcoach crash fatalities over the past decade, according to the NTSB.

“The NTSB officials are co-conspirators with bus companies turning a blind eye to the real cause of the carnage from these tragic accidents – inadequate sleep of overworked drivers,” Hanley continued. “And the other dirty secret is these drivers are forced to work second jobs during their so-called ‘rest period’ just to provide their families.

“Shouldn’t working a 15-hour day be enough to earn a living?” Hanley continued. “It’s time for the government to extend the labor protections most other workers get to intercity bus drivers and fairly compensate them for overtime work in this safety-sensitive industry. And the recently introduced Driver Fatigue Prevention Act does just that.”

The Driver Fatigue Prevention Act, recently introduced by Senator Bob Casey, D-PA, in the Senate and in the House by Representative Jackie Speier, D-CA, ensures that the overtime provisions in FLSA are extended to cover drivers of over-the-road buses.

Deregulation of the bus industry in the 1980s gave rise to countless small, ‘fly-by-night’ bus companies that have been involved in an increasing number of deadly crashes. This has allowed hundreds of intercity bus companies to get away with paying their drivers criminally low wages, forcing drivers to work 100 hours a week or more, often balancing two or three jobs, just to make a living.

“Congress needs to put the Driver Fatigue Prevention Act on the fast track or intercity bus drivers will continue to wearily report for duty with a giant cup of coffee and we will continue to see carnage on nation’s roads,” Hanley continued.