The federal agency charged with keeping the nation's highways safe has under-counted the number of fatal bus accidents in the country and safety advocates say that has given Americans a false sense of security regarding bus safety and prevented the promotion of tougher regulations, USA Today reported Wednesday.
The newspaper reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn't follow its own methods of counting the number of deaths in motor coach accidents between 1995 and 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available. A review of government records and news reports led the newspaper to report that at least 84 deaths of bus riders and drivers in accidents weren't counted by the federal agency.
Motor-coach safety has been in recent headlines after the bus accident that killed Lorenzo Charles, who made the buzzer-beating dunk to win the 1983 NCAA men's basketball championship for underdog North Carolina State. His marks the 25th bus accident death since March, USA Today reports.
The agency has counted 133 motor coach fatalities between 2003 and 2009, the newspaper reported. USA Today reported that it found 32 deaths in that same time period that weren't included in the official count, a 24 percent increase.
Between 2000 and 2009, the agency didn't count 42 deaths in midsize buses, which don't meet the agency's definition of a motor coach.
"By underreporting crashes and fatalities, it has given the industry the political cover they want to go to (Capitol) Hill and say, 'We are really safe,'" Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told the paper.
Lynda Tran, a spokeswoman for the agency, told the newspaper it receives accident data from the states and that it is working with them to improve the data they send the government.