New tour bus safety law in California not making an impact

Not one city requests extra inspections

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - A new law aimed at improving tour bus safety in California may not be making much of an impact.

CBS Local Two "Stands for You", so Tom tucker explored how and why the new law is essentially being ignored.

The scene was horrific.

It was a tour bus crash on interstate 10 near Palm Springs last October.

The bus slammed into the back of a big rig.

13 were people were killed and 31 were injured.

Chuck Xaudaro, the General Manager of Palm Springs-based Lin Lines says he initially feared the crash involved one of his buses.

"It's a horrible thing, you know.  People riding in a bus, feeling that they're safe, and then have something like this happen.  It's an atrocity.  It's horrible," said Xaudaro.

In response to deadly accidents like the one on the 10 freeway in California in recent years, state lawmakers passed a new tour bus inspection bill, AB 1677, which became law January 1st.

The law allows cities and counties to request the CHP inspect all tour buses of any company operating on roads in their area.

But we checked, and so far, the CHP says not one city or county in California has ordered the inspections.

"I think it's like anything, up in Sacramento, people are going to try to make laws that they think will do better," said Xaudaro.

Tour bus safety expert Robert Berkstresser has driven buses for 41 years.

He believes the reason why no city or county has asked for a full fleet inspection for a tour bus operator is because cities and counties have to pay for the inspections under the new law.

That's why he says the law is "ineffective".

"It's horrific when an accident happens, and there is loss of life, and there is a demand immediately for some kind of action.  Let's do something.  This happened before.  What can we do?" said Berkstresser, while talking about what he called "pressure" on lawmakers to respond to bus accidents in California.

Prior to the new law going into effect, the CHP was already performing limited, routine inspections on tour buses in California, and those inspections continue, with every operator inspected every 13 months, but, with only about a third of a given fleet inspected.

Rather than more inspections, Berkstresser says a better approach to improving tour bus safety would be passing a law requiring tour bus drivers undergo the same stringent training and certification required for school bus drivers.

"What the legislature really should do is consult with transportation safety experts to find out what the root causes of these things are, and then come up with meaningful legislation that will cut down on these types of accidents," said Berkstresser.

We asked representatives of every city in the valley why their city has not requested full fleet inspections allowed under the new law, and not one cited cost as the reason.

For Palm Springs, police sergeant William Hutchinson says the city does "not see a need for additional inspections."

Palm Desert's Risk Manager, Stephen Aryan said: "the CHP's regularly scheduled inspections are adequate to ensure public safety."

We asked the GM of Lin Lines talked about the safety of tour bus travel.

"It's a lot safer than riding in a car," said Xaudaro.

When asked why La Quinta has not requested the full fleet inspections, City Manager Frank Spevacek wrote:

"The City has not requested inspections.  Since the City has not had any tour bus operators that operate from a base in the City, the operators that do traverse the community are either ferrying passengers to events or are hired by event operators (Career Builders, Golden Voice). It has been our experience to date that these event operators hire quality tour bus operators."

Sean Smith, the Director of Economic Development for the city of Rancho Mirage offered this written response:

"The City of Rancho Mirage has yet to make any such requests as we have not been made aware of the need for inspections within our jurisdiction."

The valley cities which did not respond to a request for comment include Desert Hot Springs, Indio, Coachella, and Cathedral City.

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