Fatal Bus Crashes Prompt Bus Regulators to Seek Greater Authority

By Eliza

Jun 13, 2011 6:20pm

ABC News' Tahman Bradley Reports:

In the wake of the recent deadly bus crashes, The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is recommending Congress strengthen its authority. 

The regulatory agency wants en route bus inspections, the ability to more quickly shut down companies acting improperly, an increase in the penalty for bus companies that operate illegally, full safety audits before a company receives passenger carrier authority, and regulation authority of bus ticket brokers. 

"This year has been the worst period in recent history for motor coach safety with six crashes, resulting in 25 deaths and numerous injures just since January," Anne Ferro, the administrator of FMCSA told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Monday.   

"It is exceedingly frustrating that despite tighter safety standards and dramatic increases in the number of inspection and enforcement action that we're taking that the risk to passengers continues from a few bad actors."

Since January FMCSA has declared 18 bus companies unsatisfactory, pulling them off the roads.  Another 15 bus companies are currently unsatisfactory ratings are currently under review and appeal.  Although FMCSA has the authority under law to declare some companies a "severe risk," which immediately terminates operations, the agency often does not do so.  Under law, a company that has been given an unsatisfactory rating can continue to operate for 45 days during an appeals process. 

Safety advocates say that is much too dangerous, and they point to deadly crash on I-95 May 31 in Virginia.  Four people were killed on a Sky Express bus, even though regulators had been trying to shutdown the company. A safety advocate told the House hearing that's outrageous.

"The Virginia crash that occurred last week has reveled a dirty little secret that safety advocates have reveled for years," said Jacqueline Gillian, Vice President Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "Giving motor coach companies with an unsatisfactory safety rating 45 days or longer to continue operating or carrying passengers is simply unacceptable,"

Gillian said the public should be just as unforgiving of safety violations and mistakes on buses as it is with problems in the air. "Motor cashes have increased dramatically and we have many more people taking them, and unfortunately our safety systems are not adequate."

John Mica, R-Fla., the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee called the hearing on Monday.  The committee is drafting a bill that would make changes to regulations of bus operations. 

Pete DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon on the committee, suggested deregulation of interstate commerce for busses has been a contributing factor for the increase in low-cost tour bus crashes.  "The intention of deregulation was to bring about competition, but not to kill people," he said. "That's where a total deregulation environment fails us." 

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