Are Athletes at Risk in Chartered Buses?

It’s your responsibility to find out

A recent report by ESPN indicates that charter bus safety is an issue for college athletes who are being transported to competitions. Due to the propensity for tipping over and structural integrity problems of 15-passenger van, college athletics departments began using charter buses more frequently in recent years. Charter buses are statistically safer than 15-passenger vans, but the number of bus crashes climbed from 8,555 in 2003 to 13,195 in 2007. Over this five year period, there were 1,651 fatalities.

Most athletic department administrators hire charter buses on the basis of price and availability, rarely paying attention to safety records. However, experts recommend that safety records be given top priority All athletic departments should refer to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website and click on “search company safety records.”  The safety record of a charter bus service can be referenced if you know their DOT number.

ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” study for the time period 2007-2008 found that almost one-third of NCAA Division I schools used charter bus services that had one or more deficiencies in federal safety scores. Of these 85 schools, approximately 35 used companies with an overall safety rating of “conditional” which is one step under “satisfactory.” The U.S. DOT ratings range from “satisfactory” to “conditional” to “unsatisfactory”. These ratings are issued based on drug testing, recordkeeping, bus maintenance, and driver qualifications. It is recommended that a charter bus service should not be hired unless it has a rating of “satisfactory.”

Another commonly used test of safety is the SafeStat score, which focuses on both drivers and vehicles based on tickets, accidents, and violations found during roadside inspections. A score 75 or above is considered deficient.

Examples of common safety violations that raise red flags include reports of crashes, driver violations, worn tires, unqualified drivers, failure to record entries in logbooks, driving without adequate rest, allowing drivers to drive prior to passing drug tests, and inoperable emergency exits.

It is my opinion that potential legal liability exists for athletic departments that subcontract out their transportation to charter bus services without first checking their safety record to verify adequacy.

Read ESPN’s full “Outside the Lines” article by Paula Lavigne.