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Earlier this month a tragic bus crash on I-95 north of Richmond, Virginia (VA), left four women dead and over 50 injured victims. The accident involved a bus owned by the discount bus company Sky Express, and has since been attributed to driver fatigue. While the driver has been charged with reckless driving, and action has been taken against Sky Express itself, the devastating accident has brought to light serious safety concerns that plague the discount bus industry as a whole, putting hundreds of lives at risk on a daily basis.

With the economy still leaving countless people struggling to make ends meet and gas prices continue to rise, discount bus lines have become a more attractive — and sometimes the only — transportation alternative for many. But when stepping aboard that bus destined for New York City, Washington DC, or some other destination, many passengers are unaware of the safety risks that they are taking. A recent investigative report from the Virginia-Pilot highlights some of these issues.

Unfortunately, the way that some of these bus lines keep "discount" in their name is often because they are skirting safety regulations, driver training standards and speed limits. Although inspection and oversight is in the hands of the Virginia state police, discount bus lines have slipped under the radar for too long, avoiding the types of investigations that ensure compliance with regulations. Accidents like the one early this month in Virginia and two in New York in March 2001 that killed a total of 17 people, have led to greater oversight efforts by federal agencies.

In Hampton Roads there are more than 100 departures and arrivals weekly from 8 different discount bus lines, including Sky Express, Blue Sky, AA Bus and Coach 88, all of which have been under investigation by federal officials at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These companies, along with others that serve the area, have long records of safety violations and, on several occasions, have even been stripped of their authority to continue operating. For example, the Virginian-Pilot found that in just the past two years, Double Happiness drivers have received 49 citations for various violations; Blue Sky drivers have been cited over 30 times in that same time period.

Some of the safety problems, however, run much deeper than just a lack of enforcement. Considering the fact that charter buses as a class transport more than 750 million passengers a year, the safety regulations simply are not up to par. Companies can go into business and continue operations for up to 18 months without any safety evaluations. Some, even after failing an evaluation, continue operating. It’s time to give a hard look at the discount bus line industry. Only with stronger regulations combined with strict enforcement, will passengers be assured safe travel conditions.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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