WASHINGTON, DC – The crash that also injured comedian Tracy Morgan is a harbinger for more tragic bus crashes as drowsy drivers are being forced to work long hours at low wages putting all at risk says the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU).
Despite federal rules, the pressures compelling drowsy truck drivers to skip their rest stops to meet tight company delivery schedules is similar to what’s happening in the tour bus industry. Bus drivers working for unscrupulous operators at low wages are being forced to work second jobs to make ends meet leaving many showing up in the driver’s seat sleep deprived.
In the U.S., intercity bus drivers are exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The union says ensuring that drivers are paid fairly for work over 40 hours per week would make them less inclined to work other jobs and push their bodies beyond the limits of human endurance. And that would make bus accidents less likely.
"It was no shock to us that the truck driver in the Tracy Morgan crash had gone 24 hours without sleep – a practice many low paid bus drivers are forced into because they need second jobs to provide for their families," says Larry Hanley, international president of ATU, which represents workers at Greyhound and other intercity bus companies.
"No matter how many federal limits on work hours days are legislated, you can’t monitor what drivers are doing on their time off. You’d have to put ankle monitors to track drivers every move," he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that 36 percent of U.S. motorcoach crash fatalities over the past decade have been due to driver fatigue. It is the number one cause of fatal accidents, far above road conditions (2 percent) or inattention (6 percent). Over the last decade, three times as many people have been killed in intercity bus accidents than in commercial airline crashes.
"Is working a 15-hour day not enough to earn a living? It’s time for the government to extend protections to bus drivers so they are fairly compensated for overtime, especially in a safety sensitive industry," says Hanley. "Bus passengers and drivers on our highways have a right to expect that tour bus companies pay their employees fair, livable wages that, in effect, won’t threaten the safety of everyone on the road."
ATU has called for passage of the Driver Fatigue Prevention Act. Sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, this bill would ensure that drivers are paid fairly for the overtime work that they put in above 40 hours per week.
"It shouldn’t take a fatal accident involving a celebrity to bring the serious problem of driver fatigue to light. Just ask the families who lost loved ones in any of the many tragic bus accidents that may have been prevented by allowing bus drivers to be paid overtime like the majority of Americans," said Hanley. "Until Congress wakes up and overtime regulations are enacted and enforced we will continue to see carnage on the highways."