Globe Editorial

New York bus crash suggests regulators asleep at the wheel

March 21, 2011

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THE CARNAGE on I-95 earlier this month should serve as a wakeup call for the federal government to step up its lackadaisical enforcement of bus safety standards. Fifteen passengers were killed when a bus, operated by a company with a history of safety violations, crashed at 5:30 in the morning while returning to New York City from an overnight trip to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut.

Investigators are looking into whether the driver, Ophadell Williams, may have been fatigued. World Wide Travel of Brooklyn, the company that employed Williams, has been cited five times since 2009 for fatigued driving incidents. Witnesses said the bus swerved repeatedly in the minutes before it ran into the metal pole that ripped it apart.

For starters, the federal government must do a better job enforcing the rules limiting the number of hours drivers can remain on the road. Paper log books have proven too easy to falsify; instead, regulators should move to a system of electronic monitors to track how long drivers are behind the wheel.

New rules will also be needed for the buses themselves — and Congress may need to impose them, since federal regulators have failed to act on some common-sense recommendations. For instance, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended requiring seat belts on buses — in 1968. Congress should also mandate ejection-proof windows and roofs that can withstand rollovers, measures contained in bipartisan Senate legislation introduced earlier this month, just days before the crash.

In the meantime, the casinos that serve as magnets for discount bus lines should also help ensure those buses are operated safely. Connecticut’s two casinos in particular profit from the steady stream of gamblers delivered to their doorstep, including dozens of busloads from Boston, and they appear to have adopted a see-no-evil attitude toward those companies’ safety records. The casinos should insist that buses carrying their customers are safe — and should do their part by giving bus drivers a bed between runs.

Many of the carriers that shuttle gamblers to the casinos seem to specialize in skirting the already lax federal regulations. While Congress and federal regulators must step up, the threat of losing access to the casinos would undoubtedly help prod bus lines to take overdue steps to prevent the next tragedy.