Roughly one third of Division I NCAA university sports programs have used charter buses from companies with deficient safety records, according to a report by Paula Lavigne of ESPN.
The number of smaller college and high school teams traveling in buses with safety problems is undoubtedly much higher.
Recently, I’ve been part of the team of lawyers representing members of the Bluffton University baseball team in injury and death claims arising from the crash of their charter bus in Atlanta in March 2007. It’s been a sobering experience, especially when I consider the fact that both of my children travel in team buses about which I know little. And several years ago, I was part of a similar team of lawyers who worked together on a crash of a van carrying cheerleaders from the University of West Georgia.
Some of the issues regarding charter bus safety mentioned in the ESPN feature, or seen in the Bluffton case, include:
– Lack of seatbelts and safety glass in side windows to restrain passenger movement in a crash. Seatbelts are generally seen in tour buses in Europe and Austrailia, but because they are not required by the government in the US, they are not standard equipment here. The Bluffton crash has added impetus to a movement to require seatbelts in tour buses in the US.
– Safety ratings. Colleges should check the Safestat scores of bus companies before entrusting our kids to them.
– Driver fatigue, which is often due to driving over the legal hours.
– Tire underinflation or defects, which leads to blowouts and loss of control. (In the West Georgia case, a defective tire delaminated at high speed with a driver who was untrained and inexperienced in operating that type of vehicle.)
– Use of untrained drivers in college owned passenger vans.
For more information, see the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Adminisation’s guide to chartering buses for student transportation.
Ken Shigley is a trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia who has been listed as a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), among the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers (Martindale), and is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute, is on the National Advisory Board for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, and is a frequent speaker at continuing legal education programs for the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice. Mr. Shigley has extensive experience representing parties in trucking and bus accidents, products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, spinal cord injury, brain injury and burn injury cases. Currently he is Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia.This post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.