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Commuter bus safety becoming a major issue for state lawmakers

Independent commuter bus lines — meaning those companies that run routes from New Jersey’s more densely populated areas into Manhattan — have recently been in the crosshairs of state lawmakers over what they say are fundamentally unsafe practices that can, and often do, result in serious bus accidents.

One state lawmaker — Assemblyman Charles Mainor — saw these unsafe practices firsthand after he decided to go undercover several months ago and take a ride on a passenger bus running routes from North Jersey.

According to Mainor, the bus driver violated a multitude of vehicle traffic laws, including illegally blocking traffic to pick up passengers and, worse yet, speeding.

“As I rode from one end of town to the other, I realized how dangerous it was,” he said of his experience.

The incident resulted in Mainor drafting legislation that would hit these bus companies with a multitude of new regulations, such as requiring all drivers to secure a commercial license and submit to drug testing, and mandating that the companies carry more insurance.

The primary problem, say safety experts, is that the state of New Jersey lacks oversight over many of these bus companies due to the simple fact that they are able to classify themselves as interstate carriers — even though they run only one interstate route. This, of course, means that they fall within the exclusive purview of the federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and prevents New Jersey officials from monitoring them perhaps as closely as they would like.

While legislative action has yet to be taken concerning Mainor’s legislation, officials here in the Garden State are doing what they can to crack down on these bus companies. First, the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office has been issuing citations to bus drivers who break the rules of the road (talking or texting while driving, or running red lights are the most frequent offenses), while state Senator Nick Sacco has discussed reinstituting inspection checkpoints to identify and shut down repeat offenders.

Here’s hoping that the efforts of state lawmakers and law enforcement officials prove effective, and that bus passengers and motorists enjoy safer road conditions.

Source: The Daily Journal, “New Jersey lawmakers urging reforms after fatal bus crash,” David Porter, August 6, 2013

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