Many Pittsburghers have heard about two recent fatal bus accidents on the West Coast, which resulted in a collective 17 fatalities and dozens of serious injuries. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced that the federal government is launching a crackdown on bus companies and drivers who put the public at risk by cutting corners and violating regulations.
The government's aim is to take bus operators with a history of accidents and violations off the road. Working with state police departments nationwide, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspectors will closely examine these companies, many of which are still on the road after sidestepping previous orders to cease operations.
Until recently, inspectors have relied on bus companies' maintenance records to determine whether they have been cited. But many bus operators that have been ordered to shut down simply change their company names or transfer their drivers and buses to affiliated companies, allowing them to continue to turn a profit. These "reincarnated" or "chameleon" carriers, as inspectors call them, can be hard to trace. Over the two months of the government's investigation, FMCSA officials will inspect the buses themselves and use ageny databases to pinpoint companies with multiple addresses and affiliations. Agents will also work with police departments to identify buses that have been pulled off the road for safety violations.
The motor-coach company involved in an accident in Southern California earlier this month had failed multiple inspections in the past and had a history of brake problems. Eight people died after the brakes of the bus they were riding failed on a steep incline. In an accident in Oregon just before New Year's Day, nine people lost their lives while riding a tour bus. Investigators said the driver of that bus had worked 92 hours over eight days, far surpassing the regulation limit of 70 hours.
These fatal accidents could have been easily avoided if the bus operators hadn't skirted standard safety regulations. The federal government hopes to prevent further tragedies by taking more aggressive action against safety violators. Considering there are more than 4,000 bus companies carrying out some 700 million trips each year, investigators have quite a lot of ground to cover. But if they can prevent even one busload of passengers from being killed in a crash, their efforts won't be in vain.
Source: The Register-Guard, "Oregon, California tour bus crashes prompt crackdown on unsafe operators," Joan Lowy, Feb. 14, 2013
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