NTSB Adds to Calls for Increased Motorcoach Safety

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As a result of a May 2011 fatal crash near Doswell, Va., the National Transportation Safety Board is again recommending that the FMCSA among other things implement a program to reduce the incidents of commercial driver fatigue.

The crash occurred on Interstate 95 when the motorcoach bound for New York from Greensboro, N.C., left the highway, struck a cable barrier and rolled over  . Four passengers were killed and 49 others were injured, 14 seriously. NTSB ruled last month that the driver had little sleep over the previous 72 hours, resulting in “acute sleep loss, poor sleep quality and circadian disruption.”

“This crash should never have happened,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman when the report was released on July 31. “It was entirely preventable. Those travelers were failed at three levels: by the driver, the operator and the regulator.”

The NTSB found that Sky Express, Inc. management failed to follow adequate safety practices and exercise safety oversight of the driver. FMCSA was also cited as contributing to the accident because of its “lax safety oversight” of the operator and its repeated failure to enforce federal safety regulations against the company. Sky Express Inc. was only operating at the time of the crash because of an additional temporary extension granted to the company by FMCSA, which removed the carrier’s operating authority after the accident.

In addition to implementing the driver fatigue program, NTSB again recommended that FMCSA “incorporate scientifically based fatigue mitigation strategies” into its hours-of-service regulations.

NTSB also renewed its urging of FMCSA to require all new motor carriers seeking operating authority to demonstrate their safety fitness by passing an exam on their knowledge of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and by submitting a comprehensive plan the documents the company has management systems in place to ensure compliance. Additionally, NTSB wants to see companies pass an FMCSA safety audit, which includes vehicle inspections.

FMCSA was also asked to change the safety fitness rating methodology so that adverse vehicle and driver performance-based data alone are sufficient to result in an overall unsatisfactory rating for the carrier.