52 Companies Ordered Shuttered
Every year, the motor coach industry carries nearly 700 million passengers a year to destinations spanning the United States. Those passenger numbers are comparable to those in the domestic airline industry.
Because of a spate of bus accidents over the past few years, especially a tragic April accident in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area , in which a private charter bus taking 45 senior citizens to a casino in Oklahoma swerved and overturned on the Bush Highway in Irving, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has been conducting a serious crackdown on bus companies, which they dubbed “Operation Quick Strike,” which hoped to scrutinize all of the nearly 4,000 bus companies operating in the US, with a special emphasis on the 250 deemed to have poor safety records.
The FMCSA released some results last week, and they’re not pretty, at least for the bus companies. This year alone, the FMCSA has shut down at least 52 bus companies for not maintaining safe operations.
They found a huge number of violations. At one Utah company, drivers quite often drove from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas – a voyage of more than 800 miles – without a rest break. One Illinois company ran one of their buses for several days without maintenance, despite the fact that a warning light was activated, indicating a problem with the vehicle’s anti-lock braking system. One of company was shut down following a death. In all, of the more than 1,300 buses inspected by the FMCSA, more than a quarter – a total of 340 – were taken out of service at least temporarily. Most of the companies were shut down for incidents like those mentioned above; companies systemic maintenance failures and violations of driver regulations, especially “hours-of-service” rules, which limit the amount of time a driver can operate a bus without a break.
Many of the 52 companies regularly transported school groups, senior citizens and Boy Scouts, among others. And they were shut down because, as the agency put it, they put competition way ahead of safety. Three of the 52 companies have made improvements.
The FMCSA will probably keep up its inspection crackdown, and may even step things up a bit, since these inspection results were released about a month after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) criticized them for their failure to inspect and monitor tour bus companies. Before this crackdown, FMCSA Inspectors had often flagged bus companies for safety violations before the crashes, but allowed them to stay in business.
It’s good that federal officials are taking bus safety more seriously, and putting bus companies on notice that lax rules enforcement will not be tolerated. With the increase in buses on the road, bus accidents are most likely to increase, not decrease. Unless companies realize they can’t put profits ahead of safety and get away with it, bus patrons will continue to be at serious risk.