Bus companies are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), whose mission is to ensure the safety of the traveling public by reducing accidents involving commercial trucks and buses.
A recent rise in fatal bus accidents has brought questions of whether the agency has been doing its job.
Bus travel has increased significantly in the last few years, perhaps due to the down economy. DePaul University professor Joseph Schwieterman estimates that there has been a 24 percent increase in bus departures since last year.
With the increase in travel by bus, there has been a disturbing increase in the number of fatal bus accidents. The story notes that 28 people have died this year in bus accidents. Among the high-profile bus accidents were three in March that killed 4 in Virginia, 15 in New York and 2 in New Jersey.
Earlier this year, the bus company involved in a crash in Virginia was found to be in violation of numerous FMSCA regulations. Some of the violations mentioned included:
•· A driver who worked 11 days in a row without a rest period.
•· Four of the 10 drivers understood almost no English.
•· A driver who was insulin-dependent drove almost a thousand miles without medical clearance.
The FMCSA had given the company an “unsatisfactory” rating and should have shut them down within 45 days. But the Virginia crash occurred nine days after that deadline passed. The FMCSA routinely permitted extensions to carriers with safety violations.
In July of 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report noting that even when the FMCSA shut down carriers, almost 10 percent of shuttered bus companies “reincarnated” as new entities and continued transporting passengers.
That report was a result of a crash in Texas in 2008 that killed 17 passengers. The bus was operated by a carrier that was ordered “out of service” by the FMCSA.
The regulations exist for very good reasons. Some companies fail to have drug or alcohol testing programs. Others fail to properly evaluate driver’s abilities and fitness to operate a vehicle. Some allow poorly maintained buses to remain on the road.
As the accidents that have occurred this year demonstrate, any violation can lead to passengers being injured or killed. Stronger government action is needed to stop this from happening so frequently with such terrible consequences.