We’re commuting longer hours. Boeing plane crashes are in virtually every news cycle now. Amtrak is being sued for forcing its passengers to waive their right to go to court. Pennsylvania Turnpike motorists just experienced a horrible crash involving buses, trucks and cars, killing 5 and injuring dozens. As we start off this year, we are wondering just bad it is for commuters and business travelers these days?
Well, the Center for Justice & Democracy’s new report Planes, Trains and Automobiles – and Other Transportation Hazards has some of those answers. Can’t say the news is great but it is important. CJ&D explains,
Whether driving, flying, taking trains or ferries, or even walking, Americans must largely rely on private companies to ensure their safety – companies that are subject to ever-weakening federal regulations and public protections. The result is that far too many transportation injuries and deaths are occurring. At the same time the legal rights of all Americans are being reduced or, in some cases, eliminated altogether through state or federal tort limits, contractual restrictions like forced arbitration, and federal preemption.
Here are some key findings in each transportation system.
Planes: The FAA delegated safety decisions to Boeing that was more concerned with profit and market share than safety, and as a result it rushed to put the deadly 737 MAX into operation knowing it was unsafe. Yet this is not the only disturbing airline safety trend. There are many problems that are longstanding concerning runway near-misses, deficient maintenance, commuter airlines and cheap flights. Some are improving but not all.
Trains: In 2008, Congress gave Amtrak specific deadlines to implement positive train control technology (PTC) to stop preventable train crashes. The rail industry “bridled” at Congress’ mandate to implement PTC, failed to meet these deadlines, and as a result, crashes have continued. Then in January 2019, Amtrak stuck a fine-print provision in all tickets that forces passengers in any kind of dispute with Amtrak – even mass casualty victims – into private, rigged arbitration. Injured passengers are already subject to a strict compensation cap.
Cars/Trucks/Buses: No mode of transportation comes close to causing the number of deaths or injuries than vehicles on roads. The auto industry has taken advantage of perfunctory federal oversight and weak laws to repeatedly put hundreds of millions of dangerous and defective vehicles in the stream of commerce. Meanwhile, both the trucking and bus industries are trying to weaken state meal and rest break employment laws in order to put more fatigued commercial drivers on the road. And to make matters worse for customers, forced arbitration clauses are in nearly all vehicle sales and lease agreements today.
Ferries: The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for overseeing passenger ferry safety but it has 10 other statutorily-mandated missions. This leaves ferry safety as an under-resourced priority. Lack of resources is compounded by a lack of institutional will to make needed safety improvements. And the anachronistic Limitation of Liability Act (LOLA) provides an avenue for ferry owners to try to drastically limit their liability in mass casualty cases.
E-Scooters: There has been an explosion of injuries caused by e-scooters. Yet e-scooter companies force riders to agree to contracts, in which the company accepts none of the responsibility for rider injuries even if a company’s gross negligence is to blame. They also require that all disputes be resolved in private, secret forced arbitration systems. Combined with the absence of federal oversight, the e-scooter industry operates with little accountability to anyone.
So if you’re a commuter or business traveler, take a deep breath, get one of those meditation apps, put on some Enya, close your eye (scrap that, motorists and scooter riders!) and think about how we’re going to make this better.