A new bill that would hold privately owned and operated passenger buses in Indiana to some of the same safety standards as their commercial counterparts moved to the state Senate for consideration. The measure, designed to close a loophole that permits potentially dangerous privately owned buses to operate within the state, was introduced after the July 26 church bus crash in Indianapolis that killed three people and an unborn child and injured more than two dozen others.
Senate Bill 238, which unanimously passed a Senate transportation committee vote last week, would require privately owned buses to submit proof of vehicle inspection to authorities when obtaining or renewing registration of the bus. Indiana’s current law requires privately owned buses to undergo safety inspections just like commercial buses. But unlike commercial buses, private buses do not have to submit proof of inspection to state authorities.
If it passes, the new law would apply to all privately owned buses that hold 16 or more passengers. There are approximately 2,100 such buses in the state, Lt. Mark Carnell, legislative director for the Indiana State Police, told the Indy Star.
Safety inspections would be likely carried out on Indiana’s privately owned buses as they are on commercial buses if the new law passes. Government-approved mechanics inspect commercial buses, checking the brakes, steering mechanisms, lights, tires, and other critical safety parts. The inspection program is run through the state police.
Former National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman James Hall told the Indy Star that the proposed law is a good first step toward improving private passenger bus safety, but added that Indiana could do more to increase accountability and transparency.
The proposed law, for instance, would still not mandate and oversee driver qualifications and training on private buses as it does on commercial motor coaches. The bill also doesn’t require approved private buses to carry a special decal or sticker as commercial buses must.
If the full Senate passes the bill, the new law would go into effect July 1, but owners of private buses would have until Dec. 31, 2015, to comply.
The bus crash that propelled the legislation occurred when a bus owned and operated by Colonial Hill Baptist Church in Indianapolis, careened down the Interstate 465 exit ramp at an excessive speed and slammed into a concrete median before the bus rolled over. The bus was carrying 37 passengers, mostly teenage members of the church returning home from a camp in Michigan.
The collision killed married couple Chad and Courtney Phelps, their unborn child, and Tonya Weindorf, a mother of five. The Phelps’ 2-year-old son survived the crash. Twenty-six other passengers were hospitalized while five were treated on the scene and released.