WASHINGTON, D.C. – The FMCSA issued a cease and desist order against Sky Express, Inc. after finding that “this unsafe, illegal bus company is attempting to operate and sell tickets under a different company name, including 108 Tours and 108 Bus.” The order is effective immediately following a Memorial Day crash in Virginia that killed four passengers
Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jim Webb (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Patty Murray (D-WA) signed a letter on Monday that urges the U.S. Department of Transportation to accelerate efforts to promptly remove unsafe motorcoach carriers from our roads, ensure driver preparedness, and protect passenger safety.
The NTSB says driver fatigue is the root cause of 37 percent of all accidents it investigates. Preliminary reports indicate that last week’s Sky Express bus crash in Virginia was caused by two key factors: driver fatigue, and, according to Sen. Brown’s office, “the DOT’s decision to give this clearly unsafe carrier a last minute reprieve from closure despite a pattern of safety failures and a determination that the carrier’s safety record is unsatisfactory.”
Last week, FMCSA issued an unsatisfactory safety rating and placed Sky Express out-of-service for violating multiple federal safety regulations after the motorcoach crash on I-95 near Fredericksburg, Va.Under the out-of-service order, Sky Express is prohibited from operating in interstate transportation services.
“Safety is our number one priority,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on May 31. “We will use every resource at our disposal to pursue and remove from our roads unsafe, reckless bus companies.”
The NTSB issued a preliminary report on the crash stemming from its investigation.
FMCSA issued the unsatisfactory safety rating and out-of-service order following a full compliance review of Sky Express, which found multiple violations in the areas of driver qualification requirements, drug and alcohol compliance, hours-of-service and vehicle maintenance. FMCSA was working closely with the Virginia State Police and the NTSB to investigate the causes of the crash, which news reports indicated could be a result of driver fatigue.
Meanwhile, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced he would call for “swift implementation” of new federal safety standards to combat driver fatigue, which was thought to cause the I-95 crash. Brown was scheduled to join tour bus drivers at a Greyhound station in Cleveland over the weekend on Sunday to unveil a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation that requests it ensure all tour bus carriers follow driver safety standards similar to those employed by Greyhound and other leading carriers.
Brown is the lead sponsor of the bipartisan Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, touted as a comprehensive tour bus safety legislation aimed at reducing the number of tour bus crashes and related fatalities. But organizations such as the United Motorcoach Association and the American Bus Association oppose the bill because they say NHTSA is already working toward safety enhancements based on scientific research.
Brown first introduced the legislation – which was passed unanimously by a key Senate panel last month and awaits final passage by the full Senate – following a 2007 crash of a tour bus carrying 33 Bluffton University baseball players that claimed seven lives.
From May 1 through 15, 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 issued out-of-service citations to 127 drivers and 315 vehicles during the unannounced inspections.
Over the past five years, FMCSA said it has doubled the number of bus inspections and comprehensive safety reviews of the nation’s estimated 4,000 passenger bus companies. Roadside inspections of motorcoaches jumped from 12,991 in 2005 to 25,703 in 2010, while compliance reviews rose from 457 in 2005 to 1,042 in 2010.
On May 5, the Department of Transportation issued a new final rule that requires anyone applying for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to first obtain a commercial driver’s learner’s permit, and requires all state licensing agencies to use a standardized CDL testing system. It also prohibits the use of foreign language interpreters to reduce the potential for testing fraud.
U.S. DOT has also put forth several new policy proposals designed to raise the bar for passenger carrier safety, including a provision that would give the Department greater authority to pursue unsafe “reincarnated” passenger carriers by establishing a federal standard to help determine whether a new carrier is a reincarnation of an old, unsafe carrier.
Other U.S. DOT policy proposals include a new procedure that would allow for bus inspections to occur in places such as rest stops, requiring new motorcoach companies to undergo a full safety audit before receiving operating authority, revise current law to ensure that a driver’s CDL can be suspended or revoked for drug- and alcohol-related offenses committed in non-commercial vehicles, and raise the penalty from $2,000 a day to $25,000 for passenger carriers that attempt to operate without U.S. DOT authority.
The U.S. DOT also unveiled a “Think Safety: Every Trip, Every Time” pre-trip safety checklist on FMCSA’s Passenger Bus Safety Web site 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.
Other steps the Department has taken to improve passenger safety include a new rule to ban commercial drivers from texting behind the wheel, and a proposed rule to prohibit hand-held mobile phone use. Further, in a wide-ranging Motorcoach Safety Action plan, the Department has proposed rules that will require buses to have seat belts and electronic on-board recorders to replace easily falsified paper records of driver hours. Finally, the Department launched a new safety measurement system titled Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) that provides detailed safety data to identify bus companies for safety interventions.