U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced new tour bus safety measures that could make it a lot more difficult for companies to operate their fleets in an unsafe manner. Among the sweeping changes are a requirement for tour bus companies to pass a safety audit before receiving permission to operate. The audit will include a safety exam of both the drivers and vehicles, in addition to an interview with the owners of the company. Current laws permit companies to operate for up to 18 months without a safety evaluation.

The federal agency also finalized a proposal to tighten requirements for offering a commercial driver's license. The new license can be obtained only after obtaining a learner's permit, and all states issuing the test will need to use a federal testing system.

While the new operating and testing procedures will help ensure the safety of the estimated 700 million passengers who utilize tour buses every year, several bus safety standards have still not been announced. The Transportation Department is hoping to add requirements that new buses have seat belts and stronger roofs and windows to prevent passengers from being ejected in a roll-over accident.

The renewed interest in tour bus safety came after a string of accidents, including a March 12 crash in New York that lead to the death of 15 passengers. The bus, which was traveling at the maximum speed of 78 miles per hour, fell off an elevated highway and hit a utility pole.

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