Motorcoach

Bus co., feds blamed for 2011 Va. crash

Posted on July 31, 2012

A severely fatigued motorcoach driver who lost control of the vehicle, the failure of Sky Express Inc. to manage safe driving practices and a lack of adequate regulatory oversight was the probable cause of a fatal motorcoach crash in Doswell, Va., last May, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said.

On May 31, 2011, at about 4:55 a.m., a 2000 Setra motorcoach, operated by Sky Express Inc., was traveling northbound on Interstate 95 en route from Greensboro, N.C. to New York when it crossed the rumble strips and traveled onto the right shoulder, striking a cable barrier and overturning onto its roof. Four of the 58 passengers were killed and 49 others were injured.

“This crash should never have happened,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “It was entirely preventable. Those travelers were failed at three levels: by the driver, the operator and the regulator.”

An examination of the driver's work schedule, sleep times and cellphone use revealed that his opportunity for sleep in the 72 hours prior to the crash was limited, resulting in what the NTSB described as "acute sleep loss, poor sleep quality and circadian disruption.”

The NTSB found that Sky Express Inc. management failed to follow adequate safety practices and exercise safety oversight of the driver. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was cited as contributing to the accident because of its lax safety oversight of Sky Express Inc. and its repeated failure to enforce federal safety regulations against the company. This failure resulted in Sky Express Inc. continuing its operations despite the existence of serious safety issues. Sky Express Inc. was only operating at the time of the crash because of an additional temporary extension granted to the company by the FMCSA. The agency removed the carrier’s operating authority after the accident.

Hersman added, “You have to ask why an overburdened regulator, like FMCSA, with resources to conduct compliance reviews on only 2% to 3% of operators each year, would visit the same operator year after year? And even more to the point, given all the reviews, that identified a myriad of safety deficiencies, why was Sky Express still operating?”

As a result of its 13-month-long investigation, the NTSB made three new safety recommendations to FMCSA and also reiterated and reclassified previous recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and FMCSA.

A synopsis of the NTSB report, including the probable cause, findings, and a complete list of the safety recommendations, is available at http://go.usa.gov/GxJ. The full report will be available on the website in several weeks.

For additional reporting from the Richmond Times Dispatch, click here.

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