What did I see on the highway this morning?
May 25, 2016 10:33 AM   Subscribe

Why was a motorcycle cop and an unmarked van escorting a tour bus on the interstate?

This morning on I-40, my wife and I were passed by a strange convoy. A motorcycle cop was clearing traffic for a big tour bus, and traveling behind the bus was an unmarked van. The bus seemed completely generic, with no branding other than for the bus company, although its windows were tinted (which may be normal?). The van was unmarked and flashing its hazards. We thought maybe we smelled burning rubber in the wake of the bus, but if the bus had a mechanical problem I assume it would simply pull over.

Would this have been a politician? A celebrity? And why the escort? We talked about it for a few minutes and found ourselves totally stumped.
posted by Bromius to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
Sounds like a band-- gear in the van.
posted by supercres at 10:44 AM on May 25, 2016

Prison transport?
posted by stellaluna at 10:45 AM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I-40 is a pretty long road. Between where and where?

It could be a band (though they don't usually have police escorts). Could be a politician's campaign bus. Could be an unmarked prison transfer bus (though those usually have bars on the windows).
posted by rtha at 10:46 AM on May 25, 2016

Dave Matthews Band? They're playing in Charlotte on Friday, were just in Alabama somewhere.
posted by the webmistress at 10:50 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

This was in Durham, NC, just west of RDU airport. The bus was headed west, too---away from the airport.
posted by Bromius at 10:51 AM on May 25, 2016

I've been on a ton of long car/bus trips, and there have been a handful of times when there's been some weird thing happen and we've gotten a cop escort to the next exit. Non-fatal but potentially traffic-problem-causing car trouble, someone ill on the bus where the cop would be a guide to the hospital, whatever. One time driving with my family the spedometer on our van crapped out, and my dad had a cop pace us to highway speed so he could set the cruise control at the speed limit. Any number of really boring reasons to have a cop escort.
posted by phunniemee at 10:53 AM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Non-fatal but potentially traffic-problem-causing car trouble

I was just about to say this. I've actually pulled over to the side of a not-very-busy highway because of car trouble, had a cop come up and ask me whether the car could still move, and gotten an escort to the next exit. And that was in a regular-size car that wouldn't require a huge truck to tow it off the shoulder.
posted by Etrigan at 10:56 AM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sports team that just arrived by plane? I work directly next to Pittsburgh International and every sports team that flies into town gets a police escort for their bus ride in to town. This is always in generic Coach USA busses, so there is really no indication who is aboard.

No idea why. Seems like a waste of time and resources for the cops.
posted by dforemsky at 11:00 AM on May 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

I have been on a special event bus tour on a tight schedule that had motorcycle police escort (5 or 6 buses in a caravan). Pretty sure they paid a premium for the police escort just to manage traffic and make sure the buses got to the right places at the right times. I know for other events I've been a part of, we've paid additional for on-duty police patrol, both motorcycle and auto based, usually as a part of the permitting process for the event.

If you have to coordinate schedules or are concerned about, say, fan activity disrupting transportation, paying a few hundred to a thousand or two bucks to have a police escort that can divert traffic and get people to give the caravan a little more room seems like a no-brainer.
posted by straw at 11:13 AM on May 25, 2016

The police very much don't want a vehicle that size on the shoulder if at all possible.

As far as sports team (etc) escorts, those are sometimes contracted police being paid privately to provide security. But those buses can be targets of overzealous love/hate because of real or presumed occupants, clog up traffic by stopping at lights and taking up all the available space/get stuck hanging out into intersections, or be in a chain of vehicles that for safety/security reasons should stay together, and how much of that the city takes on just to prevent problems varies from city to city. It's really not entirely extraneous.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:17 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was the hitee in a hit-and-run in downtown Los Angeles on the 10, just before the 110. I pulled over to the shoulder afterwards, and when the CHP finished taking his report he performed a traffic break so I could get off the freeway. There is no way I could have safely merged back on to that busy freeway otherwise.

It was kinda cool actually, although I was in shock at the time.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:38 AM on May 25, 2016

Yeah, agreed that police escorts aren't that weird. My dad sometimes drives a bus for a large state school's marching band for away football games, and they get a police escort (maybe highway patrol). Some of that is to keep the convoy together.

A large touring band (like Dave Matthews) would have several semi-trucks of stage and lighting gear plus instruments, so this would be for something smaller than an arena show.
posted by supercres at 12:26 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

The ACC Baseball tournament is in Durham this week. It might have been one of the teams going to or from a game.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:04 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Band/celebrity/entertainer tour buses tend to be heavily customized inside and out, with sleeping areas and tables and couches and etc etc etc (link to a tour bus rental company, just to give you an idea), so 1) usually there are noticeably fewer windows and 2) if not outright owned by the band they are rented from a relative handful of companies, and will have virtually no markings on the outside - it won't say "TRI-STATE TRANSPORTATION" or anything like that on the side in big letters.

Plus, band gear and sound/lighting gear is almost always either in a trailer towed by the bus or in a large-ish cargo truck. An actual van is kind of at exactly the wrong cost/benefit point for a tour - costs too much in gas & driver for the usable cargo space.

My vote is for something school-related; I like Rock Steady's idea about the ACC tournament. College & high school sports teams or bands/orchestras charter buses fairly often, and I could see them having an "adults-only" van for equipment and extra coaches/staff/chaperones (who would also be able to escape from the madness for a minute.) Entirely possible the police escort was just a courtesy thing if they were running late or lost or if the bus was having trouble.
posted by soundguy99 at 2:53 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Both the ACC and mechanical problems seem, to me, roughly equally likely. I guess I'll just consider it Schrodinger's Bus.
posted by Bromius at 9:24 AM on May 27, 2016

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