How Can I Find Out if My Tour Bus Is Safe to Ride?

TourBusDenaliSamDiephuisBlendImagesGetty3867x2578.jpg
••• Tour Bus in Denali National Park, Alaska. Photo © Sam Diephuis / Blend Images / Getty Images

We have all seen examples of poor driving, unsafe vehicles and badly-maintained buses. These issues become very important when you are planning to take a motorcoach tour. How can you find out if your tour bus is really safe to ride?

Use the US Passenger Carrier Safety Database

In the United States, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) monitors interstate bus and truck safety. If you will be traveling on a bus that crosses a state line, you can find out about your chosen tour company or charter bus by visiting the FMCSA's Passenger Carrier Safety page.

You can search by company or by vehicle type, but most of us will find it easier to search by company.

For example, if you enter "Greyhound" in the name field, you will be taken to a page that shows your search results. You might see several Greyhound affiliates listed as "Not Allowed to Operate," as well as information about Greyhound Canada Transportation ULC and Greyhound Lines, Inc. Clicking on “Greyhound Lines, Inc.” will take you to the Greyhound data page, where you can review driver and vehicle safety statistics and see performance information by category.

If you cannot find your tour company’s name, you may wish to telephone the company and ask if they contract with a charter company for their motorcoach services. Chances are good that you will be able to find the charter company’s name in the FMCSA safety listings.

While Canada does not have a national passenger carrier safety database, it does make bus safety recall information available to the public.

Canada's Motor Vehicle Safety Recalls Database includes recall data for commercial buses. To use this database, you need to know the manufacturers, model names and model years of the buses your tour company uses.

It is difficult to find information about bus passenger safety in Mexico; it does not appear that the Mexican government compiles bus safety information that is searchable by company name or bus manufacturer.

Tip: The FMCSA bus safety listings also include Canadian and Mexican companies if they also operate in the US.

Note: As of this writing, the FMCSA's Passenger Carrier Safety web page does not work. A note at the top of the page states, "The search capability of this web page is currently not functioning due to technical difficulties. FMCSA is working to repair the problem." This issue has lasted for several months, which makes it difficult to predict when the search function will be restored. As a workaround, you can use the Department of Transportation's SAFER database to look up company snapshots, which include at least some information about tour companies and charter bus companies, including basic safety information.

Another Route: Use the SaferBus App to Choose Your Bus Company

The FMCSA has created the free SaferBus app to help Android and iPhone users choose which interstate bus companies they travel with. SaferBus lets you check operating status of a particular bus company registered with the US Department of Transportation, evaluate that company's safety performance and file a safety, service or discrimination complaint against a bus company from your smart phone.

Note: As of this writing, the SaferBus app is not available in the iTunes store.

Reviews on Google Play indicate that the SaferBus app does not work any longer. This may be related to the problems with the FMCSA Passenger Carrier Safety database's search function described above.

Report Unsafe Buses and Drivers to the FMSCA

If you see a bus driver behaving in an unsafe manner, such as texting while driving, or if you notice that a bus has safety issues, you should report the bus or driver to the FMSCA. You can do this by calling 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238) or by filling out a report at the National Consumer Complaint Database website. Of course, if you see a true emergency, you should immediately call 911.

If your US tour bus violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), either because it does not have the required equipment or because that equipment is broken, you can report the bus company to the FMSCA by telephone or online, using the telephone number and website listed above.