Date: December 8, 2009
This item comes from our “Better Late Than Never” file: The National Transportation Safety Board has called for procedures to remove unsafe buses from U.S. roads.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the NTSB wants agencies to identify companies that operate substandard buses, take the buses out of service, and force the companies to cease operations.
The NTSB issued their recommendations after investigating a January 2008 bus crash in Texas. The bus overturned, then was hit by a truck. One passenger was killed, 17 were seriously injured, and 29 people received minor injuries.
In the Texas crash, a driver with only three months of experience fell asleep on a trip from Monterey, Mexico, to Houston. The NTSB investigation into the accident uncovered numerous safety concerns.
In a report synopsis, the NTSB released their findings, including the following:
- Weather, road defects, and mechanical problems were not factors. However, the bus did not meet federal safety standards.
- The driver’s blood tests were negative for alcohol, but the bus company delayed testing and alcohol could not be ruled out.
- International Charter Services, which leased the bus to Capricorn Bus Lines, failed to maintain operational control and safety oversight of Capricorn’s operations.
- Although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was authorized to conduct a compliance review, they never did, and Capricorn did not receive an “at-risk” rating, despite serious safety violations.
- FMCSA’s tacit approval of lease agreements gives a lower level of safety oversight to buses carrying live passengers than to buses hauling cargo.
- During the accident investigation, FMCSA knew that International Charter Services was providing services outside the scope of its authority, but never took action.
- A legal loophole allows unsafe bus companies to circumvent the law by transferring operating rights to newly formed companies, and current review processes do not identify unsafe buses and keep them from operating.
Capricorn lost its insurance in 2003 after a fatal accident in Mexico a year earlier, but avoided federal scrutiny because of its lease arrangement, receiving “tacit” approval from the FMCSA. Capricorn got a Texas license plate by having another company register the bus in California.
“I think that this accident is the mother of all shell games,” the NTSB’s Robert Sumwalt told the Chicago Tribune.
Incredibly, according to the NTSB, Capricorn went out of business but is still operating, this time as Flores U.S. Bus Lines.
“The traveling public should expect that any motor coach they ride complies with all of the safety criteria imposed on every other commercial passenger vehicle within our borders,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman in a press release.
We not only agree, we’re surprised it took this long. Bus riders have every right to expect that they’re riding in safe vehicles, and it’s too bad it took a death, and multiple injuries, to get the NTSB to act. But now that they’re on the case, we think their recommendations should be implemented sooner rather than later. Let’s not have another crash before we have top-notch safety standards that are carefully enforced, with no loopholes.