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DOT, FMCSA target high-risk motorcoach carriers in safety crackdown

Skid marks from a tour bus are seen Monday, Feb. 4 after the bus, background, collided with two other vehicles and crashed Sunday, killing at least eight people and injuring 38, on Highway 38 just north of Yucaipa, Calif. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

The Trucker Staff

2/14/2013

WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro Thursday said the agency would undertake a targeted safety crackdown using specially trained investigator teams that will focus on high-risk motorcoach companies.

The announcement comes in the wake of numerous accidents over the past two years involving tour bus operators, capped by two accidents within a six-week period in which 17 people died and numerous others were injured.

LaHood and Ferro said Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspectors and auditors will undergo specialized training aimed at investigating key areas of operations at motorcoach companies deemed to be high risk carriers.

These operations are unique to the motorcoach industry, such as operating schedules, equipment storage and driver qualifications (including evaluating the impact of part-time drivers who may work for more than one bus operator), among other safety concerns.

Since many tour bus operators have not been subjected to enough inspections to have a Compliance, Safety, Accountability BASIC score, a source with knowledge of the crackdown said the FMCSA would mine additional data to identify high-risk carriers, including a review of carriers’ modes of operation, such as the number of buses used and the number of drivers employed.

The source said the agency had also urged state and local law enforcement officials to be more diligent in monitoring the actions of motorcoaches on the roadway, write tickets for all violations and report those tickets to federal authorities.

Those violations would include speeding, following too closely, texting, using a handheld cell phone, impaired driving and unsafe lane changing.

Even when a bus is stopped, many officers are not adequately trained to inspect a bus, thus the specialized training, the source said.

Many motorcoach companies do not have BASIC scores because they frequently move pick-up and drop-off locations to avoid inspections. Federal law allows the inspection of a bus loaded with passengers only if an officer stops a bus for a moving violation.

The first wave of a national safety sweep will be carried out over the next two months by FMCSA safety personnel who will coordinate with state law enforcement partners on targeted bus company and vehicle inspections. 

"Our fundamental goal is to ensure the safety of passengers on our roadways and save lives," said LaHood. "We've seen the tragic consequences when motorcoach companies cut corners and do not make safety a top priority. With this goal at the top of our priorities, we can continue to raise the safety bar for the entire industry."

In light of the two recent motorcoach crashes, in San Bernardino, Calif. and eastern Oregon, LaHood and Ferro Thursday brought together key safety, industry and enforcement organizations to ask for their help and support in the department’s work to transform the safety culture throughout the motorcoach industry and expand efforts to educate the public and tour industry on safe motorcoach travel.

"Motorcoach safety is at the center of this agency’s radar," said Ferro. "While motorcoach travel is among the safest forms of roadway transportation today, it can and must be safer. The traveling public deserves no less.”  

As part of this new initiative, the FMCSA is conducting a top-to-bottom analysis of its current passenger carrier oversight system to look for opportunities to strengthen its authority and practices. 

FMCSA currently oversees the safety and compliance of 525,000 motor carriers, such as interstate buses, tractor-trailers and household goods movers.  These include more than 4,000 motorcoach companies responsible for over 700 million passenger trips annually.  With this large universe of carriers and only approximately 400 investigators, inspectors and auditors, FMCSA employs a combination of methods to identify safety risks and remove unsafe carriers from the road, including partnering with state and local law enforcement on inspections and conducting paperwork audits. 

The FMCSA urged consumers and whistleblowers to report any unsafe bus company, vehicle or driver to the agency through a toll free hotline at (888) 368-7238 or FMCSA's consumer complaint at http://nccdb.fmcsa.dot.gov/HomePage.asp.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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