Two major bus crashes that left two people dead and dozens more injured recently occurred despite a nationwide crackdown on unsafe motor coach operators.
April 11, 2013, a bus operated by Cardinal Coach Line crashed near the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport while it was taking passengers to Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant, Oklahoma. Authorities investigating the crash said the bus veered off the right side of President George Bush Turnpike in Irving, struck a barrier, and swerved left across lanes of traffic before hitting a concrete median and overturning. The crash killed two passengers and injured three dozen others.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) records show that Cardinal Coach Line was most recently given a safety rating of “satisfactory” in 2009. Since then, none of the company’s five buses have been involved in a crash, but two inspections during that period found safety violations serious enough to pull buses and drivers off the road.
Loyd Rieve, 65, who the Texas Department of Public Safety identified as the driver of the Cardinal Coach Line bus that crashed in Texas, was investigated in another fatal bus accident in 1998. In that incident, Mr. Rieve was driving a bus that struck a person on the side of the road who had stopped to help at an accident scene. A grand jury considered indicting him of criminally negligent homicide but ultimately declined.
On the night of April 14, 2013, 16 people were injured when a tour bus carrying visitors from Yosemite National Park crashed after the driver lost control of the bus. The vehicle, operated by Seven Happiness Tour & Charter, swerved off of Highway 41, a winding mountain road. The bus came to a stop after striking a tree. A California Highway Patrol officer told the Associated Press that the tree was the only thing that kept the bus from tumbling down a ravine.
Authorities already determined that the bus was traveling at an unsafe speed when the driver lost control.
According to The Trucker News Services, Seven Happiness Tour & Charter was the subject of a March 6 federal compliance review – its third FMCSA compliance review since May 2010. The Trucker News Service also reports that “the carrier’s CSA scores in Unsafe driving and Hours of Service Compliance both exceed the threshold for intervention,” which is likely why the company was subject to a recent review.
Federal transportation safety regulators have ramped up efforts in the last two months to pull unsafe bus operators off the nation’s highways, a move that followed a spate of deadly crashes in recent years involving motor coach and charter bus companies.
In February, a bus carrying tourists from Tijuana, Mexico, crashed while descending a mountain road after a day trip to Big Bear in Southern California. The crash killed eight passengers and injured more than 30 others.
In December 2012, a tour bus operated by Mi Joo Tour & Travel of Vancouver, British Columbia, crashed in Oregon killing nine and injuring dozens more. The bus had been returning to Canada from a nine-day tour of the American Southwest. Investigations after the crash found the company had a history of operating with little regard for U.S. federal safety regulations. Authorities determined the driver of the bus was “driving at speeds too fast for the conditions and driving in a manner unsafe to existing road conditions.” Both he and Mi Joo were banned from operating in the U.S.
The California and Oregon crashes were two of the high-profile bus crashes in recent months. Numerous other fatal crashes have occurred across the country in the same period of time, prompting federal regulators to become more aggressive in dealing with motor coach operators deemed to be “imminent hazards.”
FMCSA regulators announced last week they would dispatch more than 50 safety investigators throughout the country to inspect “high risk” carriers, most of them small charter operators. The federal agency asked state regulators and local law enforcement agencies to help widen the crackdown, which launched April 1. The first round of inspections targets 250 charter and tour bus operators with poor safety records pertaining to vehicle maintenance.
FMCSA head Anne Ferro said in a letter to bus companies last week that despite a number of safety initiatives introduced to improve safety, her agency was unhappy with the results.
“We continue to see an unacceptable number of bus companies and drivers operating unsafely, resulting in far too many crashes with devastating impacts,” Ferro wrote.
Federal safety records show that there were 221 bus crashes resulting in 254 deaths in 2009. That number moved up in 2010 after 245 crashes killed 276 people. Federal safety inspectors and other authorities find that small charter bus companies account for most of the deadly crashes because they often operate on the fringe and evade thorough inspections.