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If cross-country speed is your only concern, America’s professional motorcoach operators admit you need to look elsewhere. But if you really want to SEE America; if you want to experience the excitement of its cities; feel the glory of its landscape; share the warmth of America’s communities, it can’t be done from 30,000 feet. You should be traveling by luxury motorcoach.
Top ten reasons why you should take a Motorcoach
- We do the driving. You’re free of the hassles of traffic, roadmaps, parking and backseat drivers. You’re finally free of distractions and responsibilities; free enough to enjoy the travel while a professional driver handles the wheel.
- Finally. YOU can see the sights. What good is it to drive through the scenic mountains and deserts and villages of the Nation if your entire field of view is a broken white line or the bumper ahead? In a motorcoach, your own panoramic window is a magic carpet.
- Sleep if you’d like. Today’s luxury motorcoach provides you with stylish and comfortable recliner seats. This is what luxury travel used to be like.
- Socialize with friends. If you’d rather visit with friends and fellow travelers, you can do it virtually any time you feel up to it. There’s no better way to meet new acquaintances or to enjoy the company of old friends than the adventure of travel together.
- Enjoy a movie. Can’t sleep? Not up to conversation? In most cases, you can now enjoy a full-length feature film or videos of your group’s own activities while you travel.
- Save money. There is no more economical way to travel. Period. You’ll be surprised to find that luxury doesn’t come at a high price on today’s motorcoach. In most cases, each traveler’s share of the cost of a professional motorcoach will be far less than other modes of public transportation and even less than private autos. (By the way, have you ever tried to coordinate the movements of 20 separate cars for a single trip? Do you want that headache again?)
- Door-to-door service. Your charter coach can go where you are and take you to where you want to be. There’s no substitute for the tremendous convenience of a motorcoach’s door-to-door service. Nor is there a substitute for the security and peace-of-mind which comes from that service. You don’t have to worry about dark parking lots in strange cities or shady characters on street corners.
- Consider the environment. Seeing America responsibly also means leaving the beauty intact for the next visitors. Today’s motorcoach has become both fuel efficient and environmentally-sound. On a per passenger basis, a modern motorcoach is among the cleanest modes of transportation in the world. That’s especially important when your group travels through America’s majestic National Park system.
- Safety…Safety…Safety… In the world of the professional motorcoach industry, there is nothing more important than safety. Accident statistics maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, part of the USDOT) bear this out year after year. According to their records, you were 1,097 times more likely to experience a fatal accident in your own car during 1994 than aboard a motorcoach.
- You love to be surprised. Frankly, if your last trip by motorcoach was more than five years ago, you have a treat in store. This isn’t the bus you rode to grammar school or home from college. This isn’t the way you came back from visiting Aunt Agnes. Today’s European style motorcoach is a delight. And as America’s professionals, we’ll delight in surprising you with it.
Safety, quality and compliance with government regulations are three critical factors to consider selecting a motorcoach operator. A quality motorcoach operator is one that is reliable, professional, offers outstanding customer service, meets all rider needs and is affordable. The cheapest option is not necessarily the best option. Cutting corners on price often means cutting corners on safety.
Be An Informed Consumer When Choosing A Motorcoach Operator
- Motorcoach companies must have federal operating authority if they cross any state or provincial lines, and should be able to offer you proof of that authority, which is issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) or Transport Canada. Additionally, many states and provinces require that a carrier obtain operating authority for interstate operations.
- sk for proof of a valid, current insurance certificate that provides a U.S. minimum of $5 million in liability insurance coverage.
- Ask for the carrier’s U.S. DOT number. Carriers are required to have a U.S. DOT number clearly displayed, and should be either 5 or 6 digits long. By using that number, you can view the carrier’s safety information online.
- All U.S. based motorcoaches must be inspected annually. You can call the individual motorcoach company to inquire about inspection, bus maintenance and repair.
- All U.S. drivers are required to have a valid, current Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), with a “passenger” endorsement printed on the license itself. CDLs are only issued after drivers have demonstrated their abilities through on-road skills and a knowledge test.
- Long or quick-turn-around trips may require an extra driver to adhere to federal Hours of Service safety requirements.
- Make sure the company complies with FMCSA pre-trip passenger safety messaging requirements. Ask them if they show safety video.
- For scheduled intercity service from your town to points everywhere, research online and crosscheck your available choices.
- Ask the operator for recommendations on lodging, restaurants, destinations, and tourist attractions. Remember that motorcoach and tour company professionals deal with these companies daily. As “preferred customers,” they can often negotiate favorable group rates for you and even provide some extras.
- If you require it, check to make sure that the operator has bilingual drivers.
The Safe Choice
Motorcoaches are the safest form of surface transportation, according to government statistics. But one injury or fatality is one too many, which is why safety remains our top priority.
We support a holistic approach to enhancing safety, of which industry action is a critical part. Other critical components of safety enhancement include assertive government crackdowns on rogue operators by enforcing laws already on the books.
Vigorous enforcement of existing laws can yield quantifiable safety results today. We supports initiatives that help remove unsafe companies and drivers from the roads; that establish educational benchmarks for drivers; and that makes certain companies entering the industry are knowledgeable and abide by all regulatory requirements.
Other crucial steps to boost safety include enhanced operator safety oversight, more vehicle safety maintenance, and innovative new crash avoidance and occupant protection technologies.
For more information, log on to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s SAFER (Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System) site.
Keep in mind when booking a motorcoach trip, do not compromise safety to save a dollar.
All us motorcarriers are subject to legal hours of service regulations. Those differ between cargo carriers and passenger carriers and you should be aware of the passenger carrier regulations when booking a trip.
The regulations for passenger carriers are:
§395.5 Maximum driving time for passenger-carrying vehicles.
Subject to the exceptions and exemptions in §395.1:
(a) No motor carrier shall permit or require any driver used by it to drive a passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicle, nor shall any such driver drive a passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicle:
(a)(1) More than 10 hours following 8 consecutive hours off duty; or
(a)(2) For any period after having been on duty 15 hours following 8 consecutive hours off duty.
(b) No motor carrier shall permit or require a driver of a passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicle to drive, nor shall any driver drive a passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicle, regardless of the number of motor carriers using the driver’s services, for any period after-
(b)(1) Having been on duty 60 hours in any 7 consecutive days if the employing motor carrier does not operate commercial motor vehicles every day of the week; or
(b)(2) Having been on duty 70 hours in any period of 8 consecutive days if the employing motor carrier operates commercial motor vehicles every day of the week.
[68 FR 22516, April 28, 2003; 70 FR 50071, Aug. 25, 2005]
The basic rule of thumb is: If traveling more than 600 miles your driver will exceed their legal hours of service. To prevent this, we will arrange for a driver switch. Driver switches do add to the price of the overall trip by about 20% but also make the trip safe.
Driving The Economy
- Motorcoach traveler and tourist demand generates more than $55 billion annually in economic transactions
- The demand for good and services created by motorcoach travel, combined with new motorcoach sales and industry equipment purchases, generates employment for 792,700 people
- One motorcoach spending one night at a destination generates as much as $11,660 for that local economy in meals, lodging, and other spending.
- The total industry fleet of 33,400 vehicles provides charter, tour, sightseeing, airport shuttle, commuter and scheduled services
The Greenest Ways to Travel
- Motorcoaches achieve 206.6 passenger miles per gallon (MPG), commuter rail gets 92.4 passenger MPG, transit buses achieve 31.4 passenger MPG, domestic airplane achieves 44 passenger MPG, personal automobiles averaged 27.2 passenger MPG, and hybrid cars 46 passenger MPG
- Each full motorcoach has the potential of removing 55 autos from the highway, reducing congestion, cutting energy use, and reducing emissions
- Motorcoaches emit the least carbon dioxide per passenger mile when compared to other forms of transportation
Completing the Transportation Network
- Motorcoaches account for 751 million passenger trips annually, moving more people in some years than commercial airlines do
- There are 5 times as many motorcoach terminals nationwide as there are airports, and 6 times as many bus terminals as there are intercity rail terminals
- For more than 14 million rural U.S. residents, motorcoaches are the only available mode of public intercity transportation service, going where air and rail do not
Motorcoaches Reflect U.S. Diversity
- The majority of long-distance bus trips are taken by females, who account for 55 percent of trips, while men account for 45 percent
- Persons who are mobility-impaired rely on motorcoaches for accessible transportation
- Students and seniors use motorcoaches for educational trips, sports outings, and cultural and historical destinations
- Business executives use motorcoaches to commute to work
Enforcement, Education Enhance Safety News
- Motorcoach passenger safety is (a) top priority, and the government’s own data show that bus travel is among the safest forms of surface transportation
- (We) support science-driven safety research to improve occupant protection
- Enforcement of existing laws and regulations by federal and state agencies must be a priority to ensure that illegal operators do not endanger public safety
Mobility With Virtually No Taxpayer Cost
- Motorcoaches provide cost-effective mobility to millions of Americans at virtually no cost to taxpayers, while other transportation sectors receive billions in annual federal subsidies
- Motorcoaches account for a mere 6 cents in federal subsidies per passenger trip, while public transit cost 77 cents per passenger trip, commercial air carriers cost $4.32 per passenger trip, and Amtrak costs $46.06 in taxpayer subsidies per passenger trip
Data cited is derived from the following sources:
- “Updated Comparisons of Energy Use and Emissions from Different Transportation Modes,” by MJ Bradley and Associates, 2008.
- “Economic Impacts and Social Benefits of the U.S. Motorcoach Industry,” by Nathan Associates, 2008.
- “Motorcoach Census 2008,” by Nathan Associates, 2008.
Charter Bus Safety and training at MCA Transportation is always a top priority; focusing on specialized training for our charter bus drivers. This specific training ensures our passengers experience a safe, comfortable and gracious charter bus outing.
MCA Transportation continually revises and updates our charter bus training program. Our extensive charter bus training program provides the tools necessary for our drivers to become successful charter bus operators.
The training and safety program consists of:
* Driver Training Meetings
* 5 Keys of defensive driving
* Behind the wheel training
* Actual trip with an experienced driver trainer
* Weather related driving skills
MCA Transportation’s Safety Director, Roger Giannini, has many years of experience in the transportation safety area, and is an integral part of our management team. He is an expert in DOT regulations and ensures that our drivers and mechanics are following all of the correct procedures. Roger was instrumental in equipping all of our charter buses with the latest GPS tracking devices, for your safety. Our team are always aware of where their charter buses are wherever they may be traveling.
- Not all motorcoach companies are equally safe.
While there are stringent safety regulations in place at the federal level (the “Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations,” or FMCSR’s; the complete set of regulations can be found online at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) website, http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov and similar laws at virtually every state level, they represent the minimum safety requirements for a commercial motor carrier of passengers to remain in business. Most carriers will operate well above these minimum rules. Some, inevitably, will operate outside the rules. Student travel planners need a way to distinguish between safe and unsafe operators.
- Price must not be your reason for selecting an operator.
While the price of the trip is important, it must not be the most important criteria for selecting a carrier. As we discuss in Part II of this guide, price does relate to safety in many critical ways that a motorcoach consumer needs to understand. High prices don’t automatically infer a safe carrier, nor do low prices automatically signal an unsafe carrier, but good safety practices are expensive. If competitive pricing is important, student trip planners need to understand why prices differ. Turn to Part II for a more complete discussion.
- Turn to the experts.
While this guide and others can help you understand those elements which determine a motorcoach company’s comparative safety, most travel planners — both casual and professional — are unqualified to make the final determination. The UMA and many state, federal and school transportation safety authorities strongly endorse the use of a “pre-qualification” process which allows knowledgeable safety examiners to carefully scrutinize all competing bus and motorcoach companies on a periodic basis. The result of that process is an “approved carrier” list of companies — all of who meet the necessary safety requirements and all of who are eligible to bid on student travel needs. Whether that list is compiled by a state, a school district or an individual school itself, if must be accompanied by an absolute and unwavering mandate that no student travel may occur on a carrier who has not been approved by the experts using the established pre-qualification review. This guide will help you identify some of the experts.
- Research — well in advance of travel — is important.
If a safe carrier pre-qualification process isn’t yet available or if you’d just like to understand that process better or double-check the work that has been done, simple research is the answer. With the phenomenal growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web, the information you need is often just a few clicks away. The checklist in this section will provide background for many of the issues you should ask about when you individually review a carrier for service with your district.
Even at this stage, remember that just asking the questions isn’t enough to make your trip a safe one. It’s critical that you enlist someone to take part in your review that understands the answers. It does no good, for example, to ask for copies of the driver’s Motor Vehicle Records (MVR’s), if no one in the review committee understands how to read them or how to determine what’s important and what isn’t. Ask a motor carrier professional for help; simultaneously, discourage interpretations or guesswork by non-professionals.
Remember, too, that if your student groups use a professional travel agency or broker to make all the arrangements, the travel agent must understand that they may book transportation only with companies who have been qualified using the school system’s approved list or by a qualified motor carrier professional. Most travel agents and brokers are focused on cost, convenience and schedules but they are not bus and motorcoach safety specialists. Many commercial coach companies today offer their own travel planning services. Because of that, they’re fully capable to make complete travel arrangements for your group within the guidelines dictated by safe highway transport. If you’re unsure of the travel agent’s affiliation with the motorcoach company who will be providing transport, don’t be bashful about asking. If there is no corporate connection, ask the agent to identify the motor carrier so that you may conduct your own safety research.
Carrier research checklist.
Ask the company for its USDOT identification number.
The number is your best tool to begin your safety review of the motor carrier. All commercial bus and motorcoach companies operating across state lines must be granted “interstate authority” by the FMCSA. That authority requires a minimum insurance coverage, continued operation within federal and state safety rules and subjects the company and its vehicles and drivers to safety review and inspection by federal and state authorities at any time.
Review the carrier’s record online.
The USDOT number serves as your key to online research of the carrier’s safety record. Go the USDOT’s motor carrier safety website at http://www.safersys.org, which can provide you with a snapshot of the carrier’s safety record. The site will tell you:
- If the carrier is authorized to transport passengers for hire;
- If the carrier has current insurance in force;
- The carrier’s record of regulatory violations or “out-of-service” incidents; those times when a vehicle or a driver is found to be in violation of the rules, and a comparison to national averages;
- The carrier’s highway accident record;
- The carrier’s current USDOT “safety rating,” if any, and the date of the carrier’s last “compliance review,” or onsite inspection by authorities.
When you review the carrier’s SAFER record, remember that a) all highway accidents are recorded, whether or not they are judged to be the fault of the commercial carrier; and b) that fewer than half of all authorized passenger carriers have undergone “compliance reviews.” Many may, therefore, have no USDOT safety rating. The absence of a safety rating does not indicate that a carrier is either good or bad; nor does the presence of an accident on the SAFER records. You should not hire a carrier with an “unsatisfactory” or “conditional” safety rating.
Verify the company’s current insurance coverage.
All commercial motor carriers of passengers must maintain minimum insurance coverage to remain authorized to perform interstate service. Operators of vehicles capable of carrying 15 or fewer passengers must maintain coverage of at least $1.5 million; those operating larger vehicles must maintain coverage of at least $5 million. Records online may or may not be up-to-the-moment; to be certain of the carrier’s coverage, you should ask the insuring company to send you verification of the carrier’s coverage directly, indicating that the coverage is or will be in place on the dates of your travel. If you will be a continuing customer, you may also wish to ask the carrier to add you as an “additional insured party” on his policy. By doing so, you will receive direct communications about the carrier’s insurance coverage from the insurance company.
Verify the carrier’s qualification of drivers and vehicles.
All drivers must possess a current “commercial drivers license (CDL) issued by your state for the class of vehicle they will be driving, and a current medical certificate indicating that they have met physical qualifications within the previous two years. No driver should be operating the vehicle across state lines under a suspended or state-authorized exempt status.
- Complete driving records or “abstracts,” and medical certification records are privileged documents, protected under federal and state privacy regulations. Only the driver’s commercial license and a proof of medical qualification “card” are available for your review.
Drivers and other “safety-sensitive” employees, such as mechanics, are required to participate in drug and alcohol testing programs. Verify that the motor carrier has such a program in place. Because of federal restrictions, driver test results and records are not available for your review.
All commercial vehicles must be inspected at least once annually to certify their mechanical fitness and compliance. Some states perform this inspection; in those locations where there is no mandatory state inspection process, the carrier himself is required to conduct the annual inspection. Ask to see the most recent inspection report.
Summary and additional resources.
Following the steps in this part can help you to feel more confident about the safety of the motorcoach provider you’ve chosen for your student activity travel. But it isn’t “the end of the line” for those who have a sincere interest in making safety the first and most important criteria for student travel. Part II, which follows, discusses the ways which travel groups, chaperons and administrators can enhance travel safety after the choice of operator has been made. We urge you to review Part II carefully.
Remember the four most important steps you can take to ensure safe travel:
- Understand and acknowledge the fact that not all motorcoach companies are equally safe.
- Don’t chose a provider based on price alone.
- Turn to the experts for help. Insist on the adoption of an “approved carrier list” and demand that no travel takes place on unapproved carriers.
- Do the research. Review every carrier’s safety qualifications ahead of individual travel needs.
Safe student travel by motorcoach is the product of a partnership. It starts with a motorcoach company that’s dedicated to preparing the vehicle and the driver for incident-free transportation. After that, it’s up to the travel planners, school administrators, chaperons and the students themselves to ensure that the trip is as safe and pleasant as it can be. This part of the Student Motorcoach Travel Safety Guide addresses the all-important role of the traveling partner and many of the non-mechanical aspects of motorcoach services which student travel groups often find most mysterious.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP.
The first step in any student travel happens long before anyone steps on board a motorcoach, but it’s the very first and most important safety factor: the planning. Where do you want to go? How many people will make the trip? How far from home is the destination? Where and when will you stop? How long will you stay at the destination and what time do you expect to arrive or depart?
Many, if not most, student travelers leave “the details” to someone else. They select a starting day and an ending day, a destination and the size of the group and then leave it to others to “fill in the blanks.” And very few travelers fail to add the caveat to “get it as cheap as you can.” In terms of safety, that approach is a recipe for disaster. Let’s address each element in the proper order of importance. We’ll start with the issue of the cost of the trip because that’s often the first criteria considered by student travel organizers.
COST — There’s no question that the price of transportation to and from your destination is important; it often comprises a third or more of the total travel budget, almost without regard to the mode of travel used: coach, air, rail or auto. Comparative cost is often the reason why travel groups turn to the motorcoach. Even after discarding the comfort and convenience advantages of a motorcoach, on a person-by-person basis, the coach represents a bargain. The problem is often those planners who try to stretch too far, to find “a bargain within a bargain.”
Just as it is with so many consumer goods and services, individual motorcoach companies offer a wide range of quality and prices. Most often, the price difference between companies will reflect the company’s use of new or older coaches, the availability of “extras” like videotape or DVD players, the cost of labor in your region of the country or the level of care and amenities offered by the company. But unlike most consumer goods or services, the price difference may also reflect a company’s level of preparedness or its dedication to safe operations.
There are no “absolute” rules of motorcoach buying. There are no strong indicators that tell us that new coaches are safer than old ones; nothing to dictate that clean coaches with uniformed drivers are safer than dirty ones with drivers in tee shirts. There is no rule — written or unwritten — that requires a safe coach to be an expensive coach or, conversely, that requires a cheap coach to be unsafe. But there are some common sense elements involved that link cost and safety. The first and most important is the fact that safety is expensive.
Safety-conscious operators invest heavily in maintaining a safe fleet. Whether they own their own garage or they contract repair and maintenance to reputable mechanics, safe operators achieve that status by investing virtually whatever it takes to ensure that every possible mechanical problem with their coach — new or old — is discovered and remedied before it takes to the road again. That doesn’t mean that it can pass inspection once a year or once a month; most see to it that a competent mechanic inspects and repairs every coach before every trip. And it doesn’t stop there. Every driver is charged with the responsibility to conduct a walk-around inspection of the vehicle before and after every day’s travel, just as a pilot conducts a rigorous pre-flight exam of his aircraft.
Is it possible for a motorcoach company to be safe if they don’t invest as much in preventative maintenance and professional repair? Of course it is, at least for a while. The professional motorcoaches on the roads today are extremely durable and forgiving vehicles. It’s not at all unusual to find well-cared-for coaches with 20- and 30-year life spans still serving safely and comfortably. But the odds of breakdown increase dramatically when an operator scrimps on repairs or invest in the coach’s appearance rather than its mechanical soundness. Statistically, very few mechanical problems on motorcoaches ever lead to crashes, but they do cause breakdowns, delays, missed schedules and hot tempers. The fact remains, though, that some repairs can’t simply be put off.
Price alone is not a reliable indicator of safety. But a price quote that’s significantly lower than the remaining field of competitors can and should be a strong indicator of the need for follow-up. If the same itinerary and trip information has been distributed to many competitors (to ensure that every company is presenting a price based on identical service and conditions), a price that’s substantially lower than the remaining responses may indicate that the bidding company didn’t fully understand your needs. It may also, however, indicate that some aspect of the low bidder’s service is significantly different than the others. That aspect could be safety.
Don’t buy on price alone.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP II
ITINERARY AND DRIVER LIMITS– Both the cost and the safety of your motorcoach travel can be affected by the schedule you intend to keep. That’s why it’s so important that you work closely with the motorcoach company to create a workable itinerary of highway travel, meal and rest stops and destination shuttle expectations.
Professional motorcoach drivers are limited by federal and state laws in the maximum number of hours that they can drive in any given work day and work week, and in the amount of time which must be allowed between work shift for rest. Refer to Part I of this Guide for an explanation of the federal “hours-of-service” regulations. Because of the limitations on total and driving hours, your travel schedule must stay within allowable and achievable limits, even if you already plan to use more than one driver. While it’s okay to draft a list of places you want to visit and determine starting and ending dates, spend time with your selected motorcoach operator to firm up a “do-able” schedule.
The hours-of-service regulations are important to travel groups, not simply because they are your primary line of defense against accidents caused by driver fatigue or drowsiness, but because they should also figure closely into the schedule of driving, rest stops, overnights or driver changes that must be made for your trip. As a rule of thumb, a motorcoach driver can be expected to drive as much as 500-miles in the course of one workday if he’s traveling on comparatively uncongested interstate highways. Local roads and traffic snarls will reduce that distance, of course, as average speed falls.
In most cases, a 15-hour total workday provides a good foundation for a very natural and comfortable travel day. The driver may spend an hour preparing for departure, four or more hours behind the wheel, an hour each for two meal breaks with the passengers and a final one to two hours at the day’s destination dropping off passengers, parking and securing the vehicle and reaching his own accommodations.
At the end of the driver’s 10-hours behind the wheel, regardless of where it falls in the 15-hour cycle, something has to happen.
* The first and best choice is always an overnight rest stop to allow both the driver and the passengers to refresh themselves for the next leg of your trip. Overnight stops should be scheduled as no less than nine to 10-hours on the passenger itinerary; remember the eight-hour break must not include the driver’s pre- and post-trip duties.
* The second option is to have a second driver step in to continue travel when the first driver reaches 10-hours behind the wheel. The safest and most common way to exchange drivers, and the most cost-efficient way, is to have the second driver sent ahead to the staging point the previous day so that he or she will have at least eight full hours of rest at the staging point before stepping on-board.
* If the final destination is less than 15-hours’ driving time from the starting point, a third option is available. Some travel groups carry a second driver on the coach right from the start. If that’s your choice, remember that both drivers are “on the clock,” right from the start, so the coach’s total travel time can’t exceed 15-hours. (Both are “on-duty” simultaneously. While one records “on-duty, driving,” the second will be recording “on-duty, not driving” time.)
You and everyone on the coach need to understand that the hours-of-service rules for commercial drivers are virtually chiseled in stone. Violations of these rules can cost a driver and the motorcoach company fines ranging up to $10,000 and they will jeopardize the driver and company’s right to continue to stay in business. You also need to know that if a travel group, agent, escort, chaperon or anyone else uses pressure, coercion, threats, bribes or any other means to force the driver to operate the vehicle beyond his legal 10-hour driving limit, that other person can be prosecuted, as well. More importantly, by allowing or coercing a driver to exceed federal and state limits on hours-of-service, the safety of the travel group can be seriously jeopardized. The rules were created to protect passengers, drivers and those who share the road with commercial vehicles.
The time of day when your group travels can also be an important safety issue. Anyone who drives understands that fatigue is a natural occurrence, but it’s a moving target. If your driving day consists of effort-free travel on uncongested highways, a longer driving day may be in order. If your hours behind the wheel are spend in slow, irritating, traffic, the hours feel longer. The time of day makes a difference in the comparative ease of driving. Still, many student travel groups plan late- day departures and all night travel using a driver change to allow the coach itself to be used as a “rolling motel.”
Through-the-night travel isn’t prohibited by any regulation, but safety risks increase with the practice. Even if the motorcoach driver is fresh, well rested and alert, overnight driving exposes the vehicle to a much higher percentage of tired auto drivers who aren’t governed by any regulation other than their own judgment. Driving at night is far more demanding and tedious than driving in daylight, even on the same roads, even for professional drivers and especially for the non-professionals who may be traveling the same highways.
ITINERARY AND DRIVER LIMITS
It’s also a fact of life that — despite the comfort of today’s luxury motorcoaches — they simply are not the equivalent of a hotel or motel bed. Sleeping on board a moving vehicle isn’t as restful for most travelers, and arriving at the destination early in the day is hardly a benefit if the travel group is too tired or too cranky to enjoy it. Often, the savings on hotel rooms at a midpoint stopover are wiped out by the added expense of salaries, advance placement travel and stay-over costs for the second driver, coupled with the leap-frog travel and stay- over costs of the first driver.
When you plan your travel itinerary, seriously consider starting earlier, travel primarily through daylight hours, include an overnight rest stop and, if needed, arrive at your destination fresh but a little later. Safety is your first concern. Using a healthy dose of common sense and realism in planning your trip can virtually assure a safe trip.
PLANNING STOPS — Group travel by motorcoach requires an extraordinary level of logistics and advance preparation. That’s one of the reasons why a good working partnership between travelers and travel professionals is critical. While a family of four can often leave their choices of restaurants, hotels or recreation to decisions of the moment, groups of 40 or 50 cannot. Many roadside restaurants simply aren’t prepared to handle large travel groups without advance notice; the same applies to hotels and even parks. These advance planning elements play and important role in the safety of the trip; groups who fall behind a tight schedule run the risk of missing reservations or even failing to reach designated rest points before the driver is out of hours. That could leave the travel group miles from safe and restful accommodations.
Drivers are fully aware of the fact that they “serve many masters” during student trips, but their first master is safety, as defined by the law. If they reach the 10-hour driving mark while they’re still miles from an appointed destination or stopover, they have no choice but to pull over and stop. By the same token, they are specifically prohibited from breaking traffic laws to make up time on behalf of a poorly planned or tardy travel group. They can’t be cajoled into speeding, running traffic signals or following prohibited route short cuts to make up for travel group-timing errors. That’s why it’s critical to know — well ahead of time — where and when stops are planned and to plan plenty of flexible travel time around that schedule.
DISABLED TRAVELERS OR SPECIAL NEEDS — Motorcoach travel today is the most versatile form of commercial group travel in the world, open, available, affordable and welcoming to virtually all travelers, including those with disabilities. Some advance planning provisions must be made, however, to accommodate persons with disabilities or special travel needs.
As a rule, you should notify the motorcoach company of the presence of disabled passengers as early in your travel planning as possible. While the availability of vehicles equipped with wheelchair lift devices is increasing daily, they are not yet universally placed or convenient. By law, a motorcoach company must provide an accessible vehicle at no additional cost if your request is made in advance. If the group includes a wheelchair-bound traveler who would rather be transferred to a motorcoach seat, the wheelchair may be stowed with baggage. You are also within your rights to request boarding assistance from the motorcoach company for a disabled traveler.
You should know that, although most motorcoaches are equipped with a lavatory, these are not accessible to disabled travelers who must use wheelchairs. As a result, you may wish during advance scheduling to plan slightly extended periods at rest stops to allow a disabled traveler to use accessible restrooms. Similarly, neither motorcoach companies nor drivers are responsible for assisting disabled travelers with any portion of the trip other than boarding or disembarking from the coach. If a disabled traveler will require medical assistance or attendant aid during the trip, it is the responsibility of travel planners to provide that additional help. If a traveler will require interim medical attention or supplies (such as oxygen tank refills) during the course of travel, it is the responsibility of travel planners to place those stops or needs on the entire group itinerary. Remember, too, that one of the advantages of travel by motorcoach is their capability to reach virtually any destination in America that’s served by a highway. Travel planners should check, in advance, to ensure that the attraction or destination could also accommodate disabled travelers.
DURING THE TRIP
The safety partnership starts with good planning and should extend well into and throughout the student motorcoach travel. In most cases, the combined skills of the driver and the travel chaperons will ensure pleasant and safe travel. For this, the driver must be dedicated to operating his vehicle with his attention clearly focused on highway safety while the events and activates in the coach behind him are clearly in the control of chaperons and travel supervisors.
Unlike airline pilots who enjoy a separation of passenger compartment and cockpit to help them keep full attention on the controls, motorcoach drivers are subject to distractions from the passengers themselves ranging from fights and parties to well-meaning conversation from over their shoulders. Chaperons and drivers must cooperate to ensure that the distractions don’t overpower the safety focus of the travel.
STARTING YOUR TRAVEL — Part I of this guide discusses the many safety aspects of company, vehicle and driver selection and preparation. In Appendix A of this Guide, schools and student motorcoach travel planners are encouraged to set in place a “pre-qualification” or company “approval” procedure conducted by qualified transportation specialists. Those mechanisms are designed to ensure that the coach and driver, which pull up to your departure point, are the safest possible at that moment. While a quick check of travel documents and a discussion of the day’s travel plans may be appropriate at that time, a full re- inspection of the vehicle or a tedious review of the driver’s qualifications are clearly inappropriate. Most student travel chaperons — parents, teachers and school administrators — are unfamiliar with commercial vehicle and driver standards and, as such, unprepared to judge either the mechanical fitness of the vehicle or the driver’s qualifications. If there are safety issues or problems with the vehicle or driver, which cause an immediate concern, the motorcoach company should be immediately notified and departure delayed until those concerns are addressed.
Because of the elements of schedule already mentioned, it’s critical that travel start, end, and closely follow the times which were agreed upon at the planning stage. That means everyone knows for every stop where the pickup point will be and what time departure will take place. It also means that pre-determined lines of communication will be available if and when schedules are not met because of unforeseen delays. Most motorcoaches and drivers are provided with cell phones for use in emergencies; travel planners should clearly coordinate the “how” and “why” of communications ahead of departure and at each stage along the way.
Take time at the very outset of your travel, before the motorcoach is ever placed in gear, to familiarize yourself and the entire travel group with the amenities of the vehicle, with any safety equipment or procedures and with the motorcoach company’s rules of operation. Most companies, for instance, adhere to strict prohibitions on smoking, drinking or gambling on board the vehicle. There are also often very stringent rules about who will be allowed access to videotape, DVD or music playback equipment which might be installed in the coach. You are reminded that the use of commercial movies, recordings of television programs and music may be subject to copyright restrictions and fees, due to the commercial nature of the coach itself. Ask your motorcoach operator about any copyright licenses or permits which may be in place to accommodate your onboard entertainment requests.
Most motorcoaches are equipped with overhead storage compartments — some with closing doors — and with lavatories, which may be used while the coach is in operation. Specific rules and cautions may apply to the use of these facilities. Federal law specifically prohibits the storage of items in the aisle of motorcoaches since the aisle is a primary path of escape in the case of an accident. Additionally, every commercial motorcoach is required to identify windows, which may be used for escape in case of an accident. Roof hatches are also provided for emergency purposes. It is both unlawful and dangerous to attempt to open most hatches or windows aboard most modern motorcoaches except in times of emergency when the coach is fully stopped. If you have questions about these facilities, ask the driver for specific instructions.
DURING THE TRIP II
PASSENGER SAFETY — There are no prohibitions against the movement of passengers from seat to seat, to the lavatory or through the aisles (other than the need to remain behind the white line marked in the floor of the coach behind the driver). Passengers should, however, be cautioned that they should remain in their seats whenever possible. If there is a need to walk through the aisles, they should ensure that they have a good, secure grip on seat backs and designated hand grips at all times to prevent loss of balance or to prevent injury in the event of a sudden stop. Walking or standing in the aisles should not take place in stop and go traffic circumstances or while the coach is traveling roads with many twists and turns.
Passengers should never attempt to enter or sleep in overhead storage compartments. Similarly, aisles should not be used for sleeping. Just as federal law requires the removal of any inanimate objects in the aisle of a motorcoach, so too should you prohibit the use of aisles for sleeping. In the case of an emergency, aisles must be clear for escape purposes.
Seatbelts are not required aboard any commercial motorcoach except for the driver. Both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) — the federal government’s two leading highway safety agencies — have found that the “compartmentalization” of passengers in bus and motorcoach seating areas, coupled with the physics of the vehicle’s large size, serve best to protect passengers in the most common kinds of highway accidents. Some newer, European-made, motorcoaches may be equipped with belts at certain seating positions where passengers aren’t compartmentalized (contained between their own seatback and a seatback ahead of them). These are usually the very front seats, a center-rear seat which faces the aisle or seats facing a table. If seat belts are available at those positions, passengers are urged to use them.
Before starting on your journey, ask your driver to explain any and all emergency procedures or company policies, which may apply to that day’s travel or the full journey. While the coach is in motion, chaperons will be expected to enforce those rules and to answer questions for the group while the driver concentrates on highway safety.
GROUP CONTROL AND BEHAVIOR — An important element in safe motorcoach travel is often overlooked or under-emphasized by student travel planners: the control and behavior of the travel group itself.
The motorcoach company and driver have a single, most- important, responsibility to student travelers: to deliver the vehicle and passengers safely to their destination. That responsibility places them, practically and legally, in the role of “captain of the ship” during travel. They are not baby- sitters, school disciplinarians, police, chaperons or parents. At the conclusion of this section of the Student Motorcoach Travel Safety Guide, you’ll find a section called “Rules for Schools” which provides a basic set of behavior guidelines for student travel groups. Student travel planners are strongly urged to review and share these rules.
Drivers will do everything in their power to help with unexpected difficulties during student travel. They understand that individual needs must be met, that there are often stragglers, and that sometimes, “kids will be kids.” But it’s unfair to expect the driver to deal with the group’s problems and to keep their concentration on the road and safety. That’s where school administrators first, then travel chaperons, must bear the direct responsibility for group behavior. Chaperons must clearly be in control of the group. They should be plentiful enough to maintain order and control. And they should position themselves throughout the coach so that they can keep an eye on the entire group; carrying four chaperons, all of who sit in the front of the coach where activities behind them are hidden, is an invitation for trouble. Anyone who has traveled with a family understands how distracting to the driver it can be to watch a disturbance in the rear-view mirror. Under most state laws, the driver is directly responsible for unlawful events, which might occur aboard his coach (drinking, gambling, throwing items from windows, rowdiness). Drivers, just like airline pilots, are generally instructed to discontinue travel until they are satisfied that passengers are in control and following the rules.
Group planners and chaperons should have — before departure — a very clear policy and plan of action to deal with disciplinary problems whenever and wherever they occur during the trip. If a student must be returned home early, the responsibility for that return is not with the driver or the motorcoach company; nor is the notification of school administrators, parents or guardians when a problem occurs.
DURING THE TRIP III
TRAVEL AND DRIVER OVERSIGHT — Part I of this guide discusses the many safety aspects of company, vehicle and driver selection and preparation. In Appendix A of this Guide, schools and student motorcoach travel planners are encouraged to set in place a “pre-qualification” or company “approval” procedure conducted by qualified transportation specialists. Those mechanisms are designed to ensure that the coach and driver, which pull up to your departure point, are the safest possible at that moment. While a quick check of travel documents and a discussion of the day’s travel plans may be appropriate at that time, a full re-inspection of the vehicle or a tedious review of the driver’s qualifications are not called for. Most chaperons — parents, teachers and school administrators — are unqualified to judge the validity.
After departure, student travel chaperons and administrators must also be ready to help keep the travel safe.
It is the responsibility of parents and chaperons during student motorcoach travel to care for and control the students themselves. It is not the responsibility of the parents and chaperons — or the students — to play the role of “back seat driver,” armchair mechanic, traffic cop or critic. Certainly if a chaperon believes that there is something wrong with the vehicle, or the driver or if there is danger which the driver appears not to know about, to bring this to the driver’s attention. These instances, however, are extremely rare.
Each motorcoach travel group must identify the person in charge of that group to serve as the primary liaison to the driver during the course of travel. In addition, if multiple vehicles are being used, a chaperon on board each individual coach should be designated as the leader aboard that vehicle. If a driver has problems with any group participant, they should be resolved through the designated group or motorcoach leader.
If a chaperon believes that the driver or vehicle present an imminent hazard to safety, it is, of course, incumbent on the chaperon to act to discontinue travel until he or she is confident that travel may proceed without incident. In the true spirit of a safety partnership, disagreements between chaperons, group leaders and drivers should be resolved, whenever possible, in a fashion that fosters safety. There must be an open and free communication between both parties.
It is good practice for the travel group leader and the driver to plan a brief time at the conclusion of each day’s travel to discuss the next day’s schedule and expectations. That’s also a good time to discuss any events of the current day’s travel that might bear review or documentation.
DURING THE TRIP IV
DRIVER DUTIES AND PERSONAL TIME — Professional motorcoach drivers must undergo very intensive, specialized training and preparation for their career. They are examined and certified for physical fitness at least once every two years. They must pass both written and skills testing to earn a commercial driver’s license (CDL) before they may drive a motorcoach. Safe motorcoach driving is a highly skilled position, which carries with it the “life and death” responsibilities of many persons. Except in rare instances, the driver is usually the only person aboard a coach who is both legally and professionally capable of performing that duty.
As such, it is both counterproductive and inappropriate to expect that the driver will carry out additional duties for the travel group. A driver, for instance, should be responsible for supervising the loading or unloading of baggage in storage compartments beneath the floor of the motorcoach, but he is not a bellhop or porter. The driver will not and should not be expected to carry baggage for passengers. Similarly, as we touched upon in our discussion of disabled travelers, the driver should not be expected to serve as attendant or care- giver for disabled passengers. Similarly, they should not be expected to act as arbitrators in passenger disputes or problems.
When travel has been completed for the day or during rest stops, drivers must first attend to the vehicle’s needs, post- trip mechanical inspections and repairs if needed, refueling, parking, cleaning and securing, for example. The driver may only then turn to his personal needs and his mandatory rest periods. While it is certainly proper for a travel group who appreciates their driver to invite him or her to join them for meals or entertainment, such invitations are not required and, frequently, will not be accepted. Professional drivers learn that personal needs and rest must come ahead of social activities and many jealously guard their personal time during “off-duty” periods. If rest periods are long enough so that socialization with the travel group is possible and welcomed, drivers will often make the decision to join in if invited.
Travelers should understand that the fact that their generosity or kindness may not be accepted by the driver is not an indication of rejection but instead of the driver’s own understanding of his needs to keep the travel safe. He, after all, is on the trip because he is at work.
Similarly, travel groups should make a diligent effort to allow the driver to use his or her free time however they may choose. For instance, passengers should avoid leaving items on board the motorcoach, which they might want while staying at an overnight rest. It’s often necessary for the driver to leave the motorcoach in a designated parking area, which is extremely remote from hotels, casinos or other overnight accommodations. The retrieval of personal items during rest periods, then, is simply not possible.
If your travel requires the use of more than one motorcoach and overnight stops, it is preferred practice to provide each driver with a room of his or her own. It’s important to remember that motorcoach drivers are adults and travel professionals who have, above all, earned private accommodations. It’s also important to remember that drivers must, by law, dedicate their off-duty time to securing the rest they need to perform their job to the best of their ability. Sharing a room with others is, by nature, not conducive to undisturbed rest. While the cost of securing individual rooms may be marginally higher, the travel rewards returned are better-rested and better-natured drivers.
At the conclusion of the travel, a gratuity or “tip” is appropriate for drivers, even with student travel. As it is with waiters and most service employees, the amount of a gratuity is completely left to the discretion and satisfaction level of the travel group, but the standard service industry gratuity is 15-percent. A more common accepted benchmark for student travel groups is $1 per passenger per day. The best and most successful motorcoach drivers work very hard beyond providing safe transportation to ensure that everyone aboard is comfortable and enjoying themselves, to the best of their ability to do so. They understand that your travel needs are important.
AT THE END OF THE TRIP
When your student travel is concluded, it’s a good time to “de- brief” with the driver, school administrators and travel planners, parents and the motorcoach company itself. Maintenance of good notes and records will help immensely when it comes time to assess the trip just ended. We recommend that no more than a day or two be allowed to lapse before completing both the discussions and/or any written reports that may be valuable. Using the “approved list” approach to pre-qualification of motorcoach companies, an assessment of good and bad points about the trip, the company and the driver may significantly affect the selection of a transportation provider for the next trip.
A variety of items should be covered during such an assessment. Was the schedule flexible enough to meet the travel needs; were layovers too long or too short; did the driver stay close to the designated arrival and departure times. Was the vehicle clean and ready for each day’s trip? Was the driver well prepared with directions and time requirements? Were there mechanical delays or equipment malfunctions on the coach? Was the driver helpful to chaperons and students? Would you use that motorcoach company and/or driver again?
From the motorcoach company’s standpoint, it’s also helpful to receive a response to the travel group. Was the group ready to travel at the appointed times? Were there discipline or communication problems? Were chaperons clearly in control and helpful in serving as group leaders? Were there inappropriate requests made on the driver’s time or duties?
Virtually any and all aspects of the journey should be on the table for a free and open exchange during the discussions. Elements which need to be changed to improve the next travel group’s enjoyment and safety should become part of the record with both school administrators and with the motorcoach company. Elements, which shouldn’t be changed, should be noted as well.
Safe student motorcoach travel is the product of good planning, knowledgeable investigations, wise choices and common sense. We invite your questions and you comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rules for Schools
In order to make extracurricular activity trips as safe and pleasant as possible, the following guidelines are to be observed by school groups when using a commercial motorcoach or bus:
1. The driver based on legal requirements and company policy will make all decisions pertaining to the operation of the motorcoach.
2. It is the driver’s determination when and where fuel stops shall be made in accordance with the company’s policy.
3. The driver will determine where the bus may be safely stopped during emergencies on the road and where it may be parked at other times.
4. Allowing food and drinks inside the bus is a privilege granted by the motorcoach company and may be rescinded at the discretion of the driver. Should the driver determine that this privilege is being abused, all food and drink will be placed in the baggage area and passengers will have access during stops as needed. A clean-up and damage fee will be assessed if necessary.
5. Chaperons are responsible to see that students put trash in containers provided by the driver and if necessary pick up food and drink trash left by the students.
6. Deviation from the itinerary that was presented to the bus company may result in extra costs. Once the trip is in progress, additional itinerary changes may result in greater mileage costs or determined to be impossible if it conflicts with the legal duty time required by the driver.
7. Student behavior on the bus is the responsibility of the chaperons. Safety requirements determine that all passengers should be seated while the bus is in motion; it is the responsibility of the chaperons to see that this rule is enforced. If the chaperons cannot enforce this rule, the driver may park the bus and remain parked until it is enforced.
8. Commercial bus drivers are strictly regulated as to driving hours in order to comply with the legal requirements for safety. This requires close cooperation between the commercial bus company and the activity group to insure compliance.
When booking a long distance trip, the most common question we get is about Drivers Hours of Service. I wrote about this earlier this year and I think it requires more explanation. Drivers Hours of Service is the MOST important thing we can monitor to assure a safe trip. The USDOT and FMCSA put out an official Flyer about Hours of Service. You are welcome to download this and read it. We are always available to help you in planning your trip and how Hours of Service will effect your trip. Read the FMCSA Hours of Service.