The U.S. Department of Transportation has ramped up its efforts in recent months to keep dangerous trucks and buses off the roads.
As part of its initiative to improve motor carrier safety and decrease commercial vehicle accidents, the federal government has dramatically increased the number of safety inspections and reviews performed on commercial buses. Roadside inspections have nearly doubled in recent years, rising from 12,991 in 2005 to 25,703 in 2010. During the same period, compliance reviews jumped from 457 to 1,042.
In May, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) partnered with state and local law enforcement to conduct a series of more than 3,000 surprise roadside inspections of commercial motor carriers over a two-week period. The strike force succeeded in removing a total of 442 unsafe drivers and vehicles from the road.
Imminent Hazard Orders
When a safety investigation reveals that a driver or carrier is so far out of compliance with federal safety regulations that the violation creates an imminent hazard to public safety, the FMCSA takes the offending driver or carrier out of service by issuing what is known as an "imminent hazard" or "out-of-service" order.
In the past two years, the FMCSA has issued 14 such orders - as many as were issued in the past ten years combined.
In June, the FMCSA issued an out-of-service order to United Tours, Inc., a North Carolina bus company, requiring it to immediately cease all commercial motor vehicle operations. The order was issued as a result of the bus company's use of unqualified drivers and its failure to comply with federal records-reporting laws.
The order stated that investigators found that United's business practices were "reckless" and that its safety violations were so widespread as to indicate a "continuing and flagrant disregard" for federal regulations.
Efforts Target "Reincarnated" Carriers
As part of the push to keep dangerous trucks and buses off the road, the federal government has also stepped up enforcement against so-called "reincarnated" carriers - bus and truck companies that attempt to bypass an out-of-service order by operating under a new name.
In June, the FMCSA issued a cease-and-desist order against Sky Express, a Charlotte-based bus company that had been attempting to operate under the names 108 Tours and 108 Bus.
Four people were killed and another 53 were injured when a bus operated by Sky Express went off the road in late May. The accident took place at 4:55 a.m., and the driver reported being fatigued.
Driver fatigue has been a major focal point in the government's efforts to improve motor carrier safety, especially after fatigue was implicated in the Sky Express crash and a recent string of similar bus accidents.
Federal law requires bus and truck drivers to record and report their hours on duty, and sets limits on the number of hours that drivers may be on duty between breaks.
The uptick in fatigue-related accidents, particularly among low-fare bus companies like Sky Express, have prompted lawmakers to consider a change that would require interstate bus drivers to adhere to the same time-off requirements that are applied to long-distance truck drivers.
Under current federal law, trucker drivers must rest for at least 10 hours between shifts, and may drive no more than 11 hours in a 14-hour shift. In contrast, bus drivers are only required to rest for eight hours between shifts, and may drive as many as 10 hours in any 15-hour shift.
Since the restrictions on truck drivers were put in place in 2003, overall truck accident rates have fallen by four percent and driver injuries have been reduced by 13 percent. Lawmakers and safety advocates hope that holding bus drivers to the same standards would yield similar results.
Stay Safe When Traveling by Bus
FMCSA administrator Anne Ferro recommends that anyone planning a long-distance bus trip begin their travel planning by researching the bus company's safety record online. "The public can easily look up bus companies on our website - www.fmcsa.dot.gov.," said Ferro. "There are resources and other safety information to help ensure your journey is as safe as possible."
If you or someone close to you has been injured in a bus or trucking accident, you may be entitled to receive compensation from the party responsible for your injuries. An experienced North Carolina personal injury attorney can answer your questions and help you explore your legal options.