U.S. DOT: Obama Administration stepped up unsafe coach crackdown

Posted on July 19, 2011

In the last two years, the Obama Administration issued as many imminent hazard orders placing unsafe bus and truck companies out of service as in the previous 10 years combined, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT).

As part of the Administration’s effort to step up motorcoach safety, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) cracked down on unsafe carriers through surprise inspections, full compliance reviews and enforcement actions.

Between 2000 and 2009, FMCSA issued a total of 14 imminent hazard orders placing unsafe carriers out of service. In just the last two years, FMCSA has already issued another 14 imminent hazard orders to take carriers that pose an immediate risk to passengers off the road. For example, last month the U.S. DOT issued an imminent hazard order to a Michigan company found to be transporting passengers in luggage compartments, at great risk to passengers.

In just the past four months, FMCSA issued eight out-of-service orders immediately following safety investigations that found the carriers and/or the drivers to be in such substantial non-compliance with federal safety regulations as to pose an imminent hazard to public safety. The eight imminent hazard out-of-service orders in 2011 have been issued to seven interstate motorcoach companies: two each based in Georgia and Pennsylvania, and one each in Michigan, Mississippi and North Carolina. One order was issued to a Tennessee-based truck driver.

The Obama Administration also doubled the number of bus inspections and comprehensive safety reviews of the nation's estimated 4,000 passenger bus companies. Roadside inspections of motorcoaches have jumped nearly 100 percent, from 12,991 in 2005 to 25,703 in 2010, while compliance reviews are up 128 percent, from 457 in 2005 to 1,042 in 2010.

In addition, FMCSA has initiated a greater number of enforcement cases against unsafe passenger carriers under the current administration: these cases have risen from 36 in 2008 to 44 in 2010.

In May, FMCSA and its state and local law enforcement partners conducted more than 3,000 surprise passenger carrier safety inspections over a two-week period that resulted in 442 unsafe buses or drivers being removed from the nation's roadways. The strike force took 127 unsafe drivers and 315 unsafe vehicles off the road during these unannounced inspections.

The U.S. DOT asked Congress to provide FMCSA with greater authority to pursue unsafe "reincarnated" passenger carriers by establishing a uniform federal standard to help determine whether a new carrier is a reincarnation of an old, unsafe carrier.

Additionally, the DOT asked Congress to approve a new procedure that would allow FMCSA to conduct bus safety inspections at en route locations such as rest stops, and to require new motorcoach companies to undergo a full safety audit before receiving operating authority.

To ensure passenger carriers operating in violation of DOT regulations are punished, DOT has asked Congress to raise the penalty for operating illegally or without authority from $2,000 a day to $25,000 per violation.

The DOT also unveiled a "Think Safety: Every Trip, Every Time" pre-trip safety checklist that helps consumers review a bus company's safety record, safety rating and U.S. DOT operating authority before buying a ticket or hiring a bus company for group travel. The checklist is available online at FMCSA's Passenger Bus Safety website.

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