Travel safety is one of the most important objectives of the overall supervisory agenda. Consumer protection and public safety intersect in this topic. Keeping travellers away from harm and maintaining safe and orderly routes and equipment should be the top priority of any commercial entity providing transportation to consumers. At the same time, companies working in the transportation sector look to legal and regulatory requirements to set minimum standards for safety infrastructure and motivate investments in technology and human capital improvements. Regulatory action, or inaction, can therefore have a huge impact on protective measures and responses to threats to safety taken by companies such as airlines, rail transit operators, and private transportation providers.
Given that commercial service providers plan their safety upgrades and major improvements to equipment and networks in light of requirements and expectations that are set by supervisors, trends of deregulation or non-regulation can have a huge impact on systems in place to protect consumers. Major accidents often lead to a regulatory response to strengthen preventive safety measures. By the same token, regulation rollback trends raise the spectre that safety concerns and potential dangers could go unaddressed.
- Airline hijacking – In the early 1970s, the experience of airline travel was completely different from what is today. Airports had minimal or no security and no restrictive measures to ensure that passengers did not smuggle dangerous items onto planes or pose safety risks to each other. Airport operators and airlines did not implement any protective measures against this because they simply were not required to do so. Amid this laissez-faire backdrop, a rash of “skyjackings” motivated by political and financial demands of bandits took place. It was only once legislative pressure induced legal change in the industry to require metal detectors, TSA guards, and other restrictions and checks on passengers that the epidemic of hijackings came to an end: How the era of ‘skyjackings’ changed the way we fly
- 2015 Amtrak derailment – This cause of this deadly train accident was ultimately traced back to an automatic control system which was not operational due to regulatory delays. As in the above example with skyjackings, carriers and operators were not required to implement this safety mechanism, although they were aware that doing so would eventually be mandatory and that it was in the best safety interests of their passengers. Concerns about over-regulation being oppressive or expensive are certainly fair and reasonable to consider in designing prudent approaches to consumer protection. However, regulatory delays or complete de-regulation lead to uneven standards, lacking implementation of safety measures, and incidents that are likely otherwise avoidable: Why an Amtrail Train Derailed in Philadelphia
- 2017 Amtrak derailment – De-regulation also figures prominently in the discussion around the causes of and reaction to the 2017 Amtrak derailment in Washington. Despite the fact that this accident took place on the first day of operation on a new route, immediate reactions to the derailment often focused on the need for infrastructure improvements. Many argued that these enhancements to the physical transportation system should not be delayed or complicated by regulatory requirements that might cost operators money or make improvements take too long. On the other hand, the broad causes of the accident – in which the train was travelling more than 50 miles per hour over the stated speed limit – are shown to have their roots in earlier regulatory lapses, a practice which looks certain to be extended rather than eliminated: The Amtrak Tragedy Has Roots in the Swamp
- Semi-autonomous and self-driving vehicles – As advanced forms of artificial intelligence transitions from a science-fiction or fantasy concept to technology that could be ubiquitous in the near future, regulators will need to address the tension between safety and innovation. Human intervention or distraction have frequently proven to be the direct cause of many of the accidents in the infancy of semi- or fully-autonomous vehicle systems. Ranging from simple mishaps to deadly collisions, these accidents show that regulation will be necessary to both make the vehicles safe and to allow them to develop to their full potential for mobility and the public good: Tesla crash raises concerns about autonomous vehicle regulation And for more on compliance issues with self-driving vehicles, check out this post and this post.
- Charter transportation – Charter companies exist in a quasi-private space which can be confusing and misleading for consumers. They operate planes and buses and provide services resembling those of public transportation, but they have individual contractual relationships with their passengers or third-parties and therefore the liability and duties applicable between them are less absolute. Regulation of these carriers too can often fall into a gray area, setting customers up for unrealistic or unsafe expectations where standards are not adequately set or enforced by any governing body: How to Check the Safety of a Charter Airline & Officials Fault Charter Bus Industry After Fatal Queens Crash
As the foregoing shows, transportation safety reaches far into public life. Therefore there is great responsibility for regulators to set clear, convincing standards for carriers and operators to ensure consumer protection.