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Poor Oversight May Have Led To Fatal Bus Accidents

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is the government agency responsible for overseeing the safety of truck and bus companies. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, failures by those regulators have led to multiple fatal bus crashes in recent months. NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman released a statement last week, discussing the findings of an investigation into FMCSA actions. The investigation raised questions about the effectiveness of the FMCSA in ensuring that carriers are following established safety guidelines.

The Chairman indicated that the FMCSA needs to, "crack down before crashes occur, not just after high visibility events." Two current NTSB investigations may have inspired that comment. Two bus crashes combined to claim 17 lives earlier this year. In each case, the bus company involved had passed FMCSA review prior to the fatal crash, and afterward was found to have serious safety violations. The NTSB pointed out that one company received a satisfactory rating despite the fact that auditors did not inspect any of the buses.

The FMCSA has greatly increased the number of license suspensions handed out to bus and trucking companies since 2010. The NTSB does not think the increase has gone far enough, however. Its investigation pointed out that the FMCSA was often aware of safety violations at companies that were allowed to continue operating. Only after those safety violations manifested in tragic accidents did the FMCSA choose to act. The FMCSA did not contest the findings of the NTSB, but the Administrator of the group did point out that it had fewer than 400 inspectors to monitor the safety of hundreds of thousands of bus and trucking companies.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Bus Safety Hazards Found Overlooked by U.S. Until Fatal Crashes," by Jeff Plungis, 7 November 2013

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