We have all witnessed this spectacle: A beat cop comes upon someone sleeping in the street, or in a subway car, and prods him with a nightstick until he goes elsewhere. This stroke of the wand might possess some magic if it actually gave the victim a home or a meal. Instead, he will only move out of sight to fall asleep somewhere else. But at least he will not be driving a 38,000 lb. motorcoach.
Fatigue and Exhaustion
In a recent FMCSA-sponsored examination of motorcoach operating environments and duty cycles, one of the most common complaints among drivers involved the time they waste being harassed – and more importantly, the time they waste trying to avoid it. While there are operating reasons aplenty for curtailing harassment, safety and liability trump them soundly. The tribulations of motorcoach drivers in a few prize venues speak volumes:
- A driver seeking sanctuary in Atlantic City told me he was ticketed in the “motorcoach parking” area of a truck stop.
- When not rousted from their slumber, motorcoach drivers in Washington, D.C. can occasionally nap while parked on Ohio Drive – beneath the 14th Street Bridge.
- Much of New York City’s motorcoach fleet was recently “relocated” from South Street Seaport, and drivers must now park in places like 11th Avenue and 41st Street – an area so isolated that coaches must now travel through midtown traffic to reach virtually anything their passengers wish to see.
Needless to say, the hotels in these tourist meccas lie beyond the means of most motorcoach drivers – a dynamic which compounds the fatigue already accompanying long or overnight trips by forcing drivers to commute back and forth with their coaches, often during rush hour, to and from those few affordable, outlying suburban motels which provide motorcoach parking. These e often unpredictable pilgrimages do not merely translate into fatigue. They translate into exponential fatigue, as drivers are often already tired from the meaningful segments of their trips long before they begin the trek to rest and storage facilities. Adding precious minutes, if not hours, to already-limited rest periods keeps drivers on the road longer, often in demanding situations, during times when they could and should be asleep, or at least resting or relaxing.
Safety and Liability
From an institutional perspective, it is ironic that local and state law enforcement agencies, and their officers engaged in harassment, contribute so directly to the violation of Federal Hours-of-Service requirements. As a consequence, both passengers and non-passengers are exposed to heightened risks which the best efforts of motorcoach drivers and their employers cannot always overcome.
The consequences of harassment are also serious from a liability perspective. The rare motorcoach careening off a freeway in the early morning hours probably did not likely return from a farm or an oasis. More likely, it returned from a hectic layover at an urban tourist attraction – often where rest was impeded by a lack of proximate and affordable amenities and facilities, and where these conditions were exacerbated by the constraints which harassment had placed on the driver’s improvisational efforts to find and reach them.
Making a significant part of my living defending public transportation operators (as well as holding them accountable), I look forward to the chance of someday helping defend a motorcoach operator who’s elderly passenger died from heatstroke because his or her driver could not run the air conditioning system because he was forced to shut down the engine to comply with anti-idling statues – and the passenger was too old, too disabled, too sick or too weak to drift around endlessly outside the vehicle until the coach departed. I expect that such litigation will stretch the boundaries of immunity statutes, and create new grounds for their repeal. And I expect it will carve out new options for subrogation. Expanding these legal boundaries could cost municipalities dearly.
Crowded and Hidden Agendas
I have far too much respect for police officers than to think they have nothing better to do than enforce motorcoach idling statutes. Such folly is a personal and professional indignity. But beyond this profound senselessness lies imminent danger. Too bad someone must fall asleep in order to wake the rest of us up.
There are certainly reasons why thoughtless institutions and their employees may not appreciate motorcoaches. They are noisy. They occupy parking spaces. They run on fossil fuel. And they carry tourists who often do not spend much money. So I understand why non-motorcoach users might not welcome them.
I also understand the pressure and clutter of modern, digital, two-working-spouses-in-every-family American life – and how seemingly tiny issues like motorcoach idling can become buried in the avalanche of commercial agendas overwhelming us all. I am just not sure someone will whose mother or grandmother was just killed or maimed when her motorcoach careened off a bridge upon its return from a hectic tourist center where the driver spent much of his off-duty hours cruising around like a shark. I hope I am not that passenger’s son. But I sure hope I am the defendant’s expert witness.