Are party buses on collision course with public safety?
UTC finds clear dangers, need for comprehensive action
OLYMPIA, Wash. – Concerned about the growth and potential dangers of “party buses,” state regulators today released a report and recommendations intended to better protect Washington party bus customers and the public from harm.
Party bus companies, a growing nationwide presence, remodel buses or limousines by replacing seating and adding features including audio systems, flat screen TVs and other electronics, and strobe lights. Customers purchase tickets for a mobile party, often complete with alcohol and other entertainment.
In just the past four years, more than a dozen people in the US and Canada have been killed and many more injured, some in alcohol-fueled accidents, while aboard party buses, staff of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) found.
The report identified 33 party bus companies operating in Washington, with just 14 holding the proper permit from the UTC.
Staff found no record of reported deaths or accidents in Washington state. However, in 2012 an 11-year-old girl was killed after falling through an emergency window of a party bus in Oregon. The operator, Five Star Limousine, also operated in Washington. The UTC subsequently revoked the company’s permit to operate in the state.
“We have a real challenge on our hands with this relatively new form of transportation,” said UTC chairman David Danner, who requested the investigation. “We need to do everything possible to protect the people of our state.”
The report found that current laws and regulations do not adequately address party bus issues. Moreover, it found a patchwork of state and local jurisdictions over party buses created potential loopholes in enforcement.
The report identified numerous incidents resulting in injuries and fatalities, including the following:
• In separate incidents, fourteen people fell from party buses, 10 of them were killed. In most of these cases, the victims unintentionally opened the emergency door and fell from the vehicle.
• Two passengers were killed when they were struck by a highway overpass after sticking their heads out of the emergency hatch at the top of the bus.
• Two passengers, standing on the top deck of a double-decker party bus, were struck by an overpass because there was not enough clearance and were killed.
• Two passengers died from alcohol poisoning.
• A bus driver, reportedly under the influence, lost control of his vehicle, killing a passenger and then fled the scene. He was apprehended and reportedly charged with manslaughter, hit-and-run and DUI.
The UTC report made several recommendations to improve safety and oversight, including:
• Defining a party bus company to include carriers who advertise, solicit, offer or enter into an agreement to provide party bus service.
• Removing an exemption for buses operating within a single city.
• Advocating for laws, similar to those in California, to limit alcohol consumption for passengers under 21. California law requires that an adult chaperone be present if anybody on the bus is under 21 and alcohol is served. It holds both the chaperone and bus driver responsible for implementing a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking.
• Prohibiting the party bus company from providing alcohol to its passengers.
• Banning “member-only” party bus companies that could fall outside of state regulation.
• Prohibiting the use of double-decker buses.
“As far as we can tell, nobody has come to harm yet in our state, but we’re concerned it’s just a matter of time,” Chairman Danner said.
The UTC regulates the rates and services of telecommunications companies, investor-owned electric utilities, natural gas and water companies, garbage-collection haulers, household-goods movers and charter-bus companies, commercial ferries, pipeline companies, and a low-level radioactive waste repository.