How To Manage A Safer Bus Service

Jim Luff
Posted on March 16, 2014

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The bus clinic at LCT Show East summed up the key issues this year facing charter and tour operators and limo operators who run buses.

What Is a Roadside Check?

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a roadside inspection is an examination of individual commercial motor vehicles and drivers by a Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) inspector to see if they comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and/or Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs.) Serious violations result in the the driver and/or the vehicle being placed Out of Service (OOS) on the spot. Violations must be corrected before the affected driver or vehicle can return to service. The U.S. Department of Transportation is increasing its enforcement to make sure commercial passenger vehicles are safe and run by properly licensed operators who are physically and mentally fit and get proper rest periods.

What Should You Expect at a Roadside Check?

The roadside check can last 10 minutes or take as long as one hour depending upon the type of check. In general, the inspector will start by comparing the federal DOT number on the vehicle with the DOT database to see if the company has legal authority to operate. Meanwhile, the driver must present a driver’s license and medical card. Failure to show a valid medical card may result in officers ending the trip. The American Bus Association (ABA) recommends you spot check your drivers to verify they have the cards in their wallets. The inspector also will verify the company has filed an MCS-150 within the past two years. This is a statement of vehicles operated, miles traveled annually, and any crashes. Next, officers will inspect the tires, brakes, emergency exits and overall mechanical condition of the vehicle. In some cases, the vehicle will be placed on portable scales to make sure the passengers and luggage don’t exceed the weight limit of the vehicle. The driver’s logbook or waybill also will be reviewed to confirm hours of service of the driver and proper rest.

The “F” Word

With so much emphasis on driver fatigue, Mike McDonal, chairman of the ABA’s Industry Safety Council, has dubbed fatigue, “the F word.” Driver fatigue can cause or contribute to accidents. Drivers may become fatigued by erratic working schedules, such as driving an early morning run on a Monday followed by a late night run on a Tuesday with no set sleep schedule. The ABA recommends drivers always have 10 hours off duty between runs, although the DOT only requires eight. It also supports having “day” drivers and “night” drivers so proper sleep habits can be developed. Other industry related issues that cause driver fatigue are split shifts, unpredictable work schedules, and poor exercise. The ABA also cites environmental stress that contributes to the inability of drivers to fully relax, such as constant exposure to loud noises from engines, passengers and road vibrations. Make sure your off duty drivers are getting adequate rest and that dispatchers do not call them during the 10-hour sleep window to confirm a future trip or report for work early. The company needs to be a part of the solution of fatigue and not part of the problem.

What Are Your Drivers Eating?

California operators Rich Azzolino, Chris Quinn and Gary Buffo all emphasize  detailed safety training in their operations that are specific to bus drivers.

California operators Rich Azzolino, Chris Quinn and Gary Buffo all emphasize  detailed safety training in their operations that are specific to bus drivers.

While it may seem irrelevant what drivers eat while working, poor food choices and eating habits can lead to diabetes. Certain foods, such as fast food with high sugar content, can cause drowsiness in diabetics, according to The American Diabetes Association. Likewise, poor eating habits can contribute to diabetes and fatigue, McDonal said. Drivers tend to eat when they can because of long periods without food, and then rush through meals.  

“The driver is the last one off the bus to order food,” McDonal says. “They must choke their food down and get back on the bus first.”

Health & Safety Partnership

Fatigue management must be a joint effort between companies and their drivers. It requires the cooperation, training and education of company management, dispatchers and drivers to understand rest requirements and meal choices. Consider bringing in a nutritionist or health care professional to your next safety meeting. Educate your drivers to bring healthy snacks to work with them such as bananas and other fruit rather than filling up on junk food throughout their driving days. Educate them on the importance of good sleep. Little things such as falling asleep with the TV on can significantly contribute to fatigue, according to sleep studies. Designate a team manager to review scheduling and analyze the past 30 days of a handful of drivers to see if scheduling methods generate fatigue. Consider forming a walking group to help keep your drivers physically fit. Just because they have medical cards doesn’t mean they are healthy.  

Safety Begins With Hiring

It’s best to hire safety-minded employees. Rich Azzolino, newly installed president of the Greater California Livery Association and manager at Gateway Limousines Worldwide in Burlingame, Calif., recommends you never hire a driver from another transportation company. “They bring bad habits,” he says. When you hire, “arm your chauffeurs with training to handle accidents or emergencies,” says Gary Buffo, NLA president and CEO of Pure Luxury Transportation in Petaluma, Calif. Azzolino and Buffo recommend having safety manuals for all departments including garage, dispatch, business office and reservations. New applicants always should provide a driver’s license print-out from the past 30 days. This document should be thoroughly reviewed for past accidents and violations.

Ongoing Training

Chris Quinn is not only the owner and CEO of Corporate Transportation Solutions in Sacramento, Calif., but serves as a captain in his local fire department. “The punch isn’t as hard if you are prepared for it,” says Quinn in planning for an accident. Quinn emphasizes all company staff must be trained to stay in control and take charge when an incident occurs. Each person must know his or her role in handling a major accident and be taught to stay calm. Quinn advises each team member who may be called upon to assist in an accident to have a written handbook outlining the procedures and policies to be followed.  

Accident Scene

In the event of a major crash, a driver must know his location, Quinn says. This means he must always be aware of his surroundings to respond quickly. Drivers’ priorities to handle are: 1) Injuries, 2) Traffic problems caused by the crash, and 3) Trying to figure out what happened. Azzolino advises the driver and company official to “be very quiet” at the scene. Anything said will be incorporated into the official report that may become the center of a lawsuit. Buffo adds that respect for the investigating officer “goes a long way” and cautions that management should never show up and interfere with the investigation. Make no statements to the media other than to say an internal investigation is underway.

Related Topics: buses, charter and tour, charter and tour operators, How To, industry regulations, Safety

Jim Luff General Manager
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