Last October, the Cornell Daily Sun reported that a charter bus operated by Ithaca, N.Y.-based Big Red Bullet crashed in Pennsylvania, killing one passenger and injuring the driver as well as the remaining 12 passengers. The driver faced 33 criminal charges, including Homicide by Vehicle While Driving Under the Influence. As of this writing — and according to the FMCSA Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) system — the company may not operate.
While this is a worst-case scenario, it does serve as a cautionary tale about the value of a motorcoach company’s safety ranking. Here’s what you can do to improve your company’s safety ranking and ensure it remains positive.
Choose Your Motorcoach Drivers Carefully
Returning to Big Red Bullet for a moment, the Cornell Daily Sun also reported that the driver of the bus that crashed not only fell asleep at the wheel but was later found to have traces of cocaine in his system.
Your bus drivers are arguably your most important assets when it comes to motorcoach safety. Always validate the drivers’ safety records. Check for up-to-date CDL licenses and medical fitness to operate a motorcoach. Also conduct background checks. When conducting them yourself, you might not be able to access the correct information. Instead, outsource this to a provider that specializes in conducting background checks.
Credit reporting agency TransUnion said that a traditional background check will include motor vehicle records, the element most important to you. Also look check a prospective employee’s credit report for signs of irresponsible behavior. “Any missed payments or bankruptcies could signal signs of being irresponsible elsewhere, and negatively separate you from the competition,” said Jill Gonzalez, an analyst writing for CNBC Make It. Check for criminal history as well.
Remember, though — you have to ask the applicant for permission to do a background check.
Address Vehicle Maintenance Issues
Just like an automobile, a motorcoach in good working order will operate more safely than one in poor physical condition. And just like a car, your motorcoach comes with an owner’s manual that recommends service intervals for key items. Make proper engine oil changes a top priority for ongoing motorcoach maintenance, followed by oil and air filter changes.
Note where the rubber literally hits the road — your vehicles’ tires. Get them regularly inspected and rotated. Regular tire rotation and alignment will result in better tread wear, and thus longer tire life. And, of course, replace the tires when they wear out.
You can expect tire maintenance to be somewhat costly — a spokesperson for Goodyear in an article for Transport Topics called it the second most costly fleet maintenance expense behind fuel. However, it confers a financial benefit. Specifically, well-maintained tires reduce fuel consumption. Fleet Equipment says that, for every 10% a tire is underinflated, there will be a corresponding 1% decrease in fuel economy. Applied across several tires on a vehicle — and several vehicles in a fleet — it’s easy to see how tire maintenance improves your bottom line.
Ensure you Comply with Regulations
The FMCSA factors both driver fitness and vehicle maintenance into your overall safety rating. But there are a few other safety areas defined by the FMCSA that also apply to motor coach companies:
- Unsafe Driving
- Hours-of-Service (HOS) Compliance
- Controlled Substances and Alcohol
Hopefully if you find and hire good drivers, both unsafe driving and drug or alcohol abuse will not become issues. However, many companies run afoul of HOS compliance. Simply put, you can’t work your drivers to death. They can only drive so many hours in a day, and they are required to sleep a certain number of hours each day. Federal codes CFR 392 and 395 address this.
Fortunately, you need not ever find yourself with a poor safety rating from the FMCSA. They provide a myriad of tools to help motor coach operators meet safety standards and improve if they find they are falling behind. The provide a Motor Carrier Safety Planner that makes it easy to research and implement safety protocols for motorcoach companies.
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