Buses come in a wide variety of sizes and have a wide variety of uses in Texas. There are metropolitan area buses, school buses, airport shuttles, casino shuttles, private coaches, greyhounds and countless other types of buses on Texas roads every day. In light of their prevalence and the millions of lives depending upon them for safe transport, you would think that there would be very stringent, well-thought-out rules providing for the welfare of the passengers. But that is not the case in Texas.
Private Buses and Shuttles
The amount of liability insurance that a private bus carries in Texas is determined by two main factors:
- The number of passengers the bus can carry, and;
- Whether it is an intrastate vs interstate bus.
If the bus is an intrastate bus, that is it only travels inside of the State of Texas, then it is subject to the Texas Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (TMCSR). If the bus is an interstate bus, that is it travels out-of-state, then it is required to follow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR).
Texas Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for Intrastate Buses and Shuttles
Under the TMCSR, buses with a seating capacity of at least 15 but no more than 26 passengers are required to carry a minimum of $500,000.00 in liability insurance. However, if the bus has seating for more than 26 passengers, then the bus is required to carry $5,000,000.00. That is a huge difference in coverage. The absurdity of this jump from $500,000.00 to 5 million is further highlighted when you do the math and realize that the average coverage per passenger in a 26-passenger bus is $19,230.77 whereas the average amount of coverage per passenger in a 27-passenger bus is $185,185.18. One extra passenger capacity makes a big difference.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for Interstate Buses and Shuttles
The FMCSR is only slightly less absurd in its treatment of bus insurance requirements. Under the FMCSR (49 Code of Federal Regulations §387.7), any vehicle for hire with a seating capacity of 15 or fewer passengers must carry $1,500,000.00 in coverage while any vehicle for hire with a seating capacity of 16 or more must carry $5,000,000.00. Additionally, the Statue specifically excepts from coverage: school buses, buses on school trips, vehicles providing taxicab service with a seating capacity of fewer than seven passengers; a motor vehicle carrying less than sixteen individuals in a single daily round trip to commute to and from work. Thus a 15-passenger bus will have $100,000.00 per person average liability coverage whereas a 16-passenger bus will average $312,500.00 in coverage per person.
Comparing the FMCSR and TMCSR
If the laws don’t seem absurd enough when compared to themselves, comparing the common ground of the two shows a lack of sense. Under the above rules, a private coach capable of transporting 16-26 passengers within the borders of Texas must only provide $500,000.00 in coverage whereas if that same bus crosses a state border, it must provide $5,000,000.00 in coverage. Is the bus less likely to get in a wreck simply because it crossed an imaginary line on the map? Of course not. But it is less protected.
No Requirement for UM/UIM Coverage
Another absurdity of bus insurance requirements is the fact that they require liability coverage but not underinsured nor uninsured motorist coverage. The reason you want higher limits on larger buses is that buses carry more people who could be injured in a bus accident. If the bus driver causes an accident that results in a 26+ person bus explosion, there are five million in coverage. The coverage is to protect, at least in part, the passengers as well as other drivers. But if another driver is at fault and the bus explodes? Drivers of personal automobiles in Texas are only required to carry a minimum of $30,000.00 in liability coverage. The bus liability coverage only applies if the bus is at fault. With no UM/UIM required, the people on the bus are left to split whatever liability coverage is carried by the other driver (unless they have their own UM/UIM policy somewhere). If the purpose is to protect the passengers, shouldn’t we require UM/UIM coverage as well?
School Buses and Sovereign Immunity
School bus accidents throw a curveball into the mix. They are exempt from the insurance requirements above. To make matters worse, Texas sovereign immunity laws limit the liability of school district vehicles involved in accidents to $100,000.00 per person up to a maximum of $300,000.00 per accident. This is the cap on damages that applies under the Texas Tort Claims Act. (Which, coincidentally, the Texas Tort Claims Act has resulted in Courts denying liability and coverage for several other negligent injuries that occur on buses. So, regardless of how many kids are on the bus, there is a maximum of $300,000.00 that the school district can be held liable for the accident. Furthermore, there is no requirement that UM/UIM coverage be provided. How can it possibly make sense that our kids receive the least protection of all?
The Texas Legislature needs to take a good hard look at the laws and insurance requirements surrounding bus accidents. It is time for a new provision of the Texas Torts Claims Act to be enacted allowing school districts to be held fully accountable for the actions of their school bus drivers. Furthermore, the minimum insurance requirement laws need to be unified and extended to cover all buses with a more rational amount of coverage.