Rules for U.S. Bus Investigations Tightened After Fatal Crash

The U.S. Transportation Department is adopting a rule forbidding the kind of reprieve that regulators granted a bus company that was supposed to be closed for safety violations before a fatal crash last year.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed rule change, published today on the Federal Register’s website, would prevent the agency from granting companies that are deemed unsafe additional time to fix violations, leading to faster shut-down orders.

The policy was informally changed last year following the Sky Express bus crash that killed four people near Doswell, Virginia, while the company was in the middle of a 10-day extension. The bus regulator opted not to close Sky Express after the 45-day waiting period required by law to let a company prove it had fixed safety shortcomings.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said after the crash there was “no excuse” for the 10-day extension and ordered FMCSA to stop granting them. Today’s final rule writes the ban, which also applies to trucking companies that carry hazardous materials, into the agency’s regulations.

Matthew Chambers, a spokesman for FMCSA, declined to provide any immediate comment.

Fatal crashes surged last year as intercity bus travel became the fastest-growing U.S. mode of commercial transportation.

204 Violations

U.S. investigators had cited the North Carolina-based operator 204 times for safety violations in the 10 months before the Virginia crash. The company, which is no longer in business, was based in Charlotte and ran its coaches to New York City’s Chinatown.

The FMCSA’s failure to close Sky Express showed the agency’s inability to get unsafe bus operators off the road, Deborah Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said July 31 after the agency’s crash investigation was complete.

The Sky Express crash was caused by a driver falling asleep and a company that didn’t manage fatigue or keep track of its drivers, the safety board said.

The FMCSA used the 10-day extension, in part, to make sure its case against Sky Express would hold up in court, FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro said in an interview last year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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