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Bus Accidents on the Increase Nationally

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A bus accident in the Lincoln Tunnel between New York City and New Jersey left at least 18 people injured on Wednesday morning. The buses involved were a New Jersey Transit bus and a chartered school bus. Most of the people injured were in the N.J. Transit bus, which rear-ended the school charter bus as it approached the Manhattan end of the tunnel.

In addition to injuries among bus passengers, a woman stuck in her car in the tunnel went into labor.

The school charter was from Toronto, carrying 26 13-and 14- year-old teens on a school trip to New York City. It was one of the 42 million vehicles that pass through the tunnel each year.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that a school bus is the safest way to transport children, citing a Department of Transportation report. This report shows that when compared to teen drivers and even adult drivers, school bus drivers are safer. Teen drivers account for 58 percent of fatalities when traveling to school; adult drivers account for 23 percent. In contrast, school bus drivers account for only one percent of fatalities during school hours.

However, other sources of statistics are not so positive about the accident records of school buses. The FMCSA reports that of all bus fatal crashes in the years 2003 to 2013, school buses accounted for 41 percent of all bus accident fatalities

What about coaches such as the N.J. Transit bus? In the past few years there have been some spectacular bus crashes, many of them involving chartered buses (as opposed to regularly scheduled coaches such as those operated by Grayhound, Trailways and other common carriers. However, the NHTSA has come under fire for not fully reporting bus accident deaths and injuries. A 2011 article in USA Today suggested that the accident record of inter-city coaches may be worse than reported.

According to the article, the government had undercounted motor coach statistics between 1995 and 2009. This gives authorities and the public misleading information about the safety of motor coaches and makes their fatal accident record suspect. The article counted at least 42 fatalities that were not included in statistical reports. Broken down even further, between 2003 and 2011, at least 32 bus accident deaths were not included. When including the unreported fatalities, it appears that motor coach accidents were on the increase as of 2011.

Even without including the unreported crashes and deaths, the increase appears to have continued, with an increase in fatal bus accidents between 2012 and 2013 reported by the U.S. DOT in Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts (April 2015). Although more recent statistics are not available, this trend has probably not changed, based on news stories in the past few years. The industry and regulatory agencies need to step up and address issues of driver training and qualifications as well as maintenance of motor coaches.

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