Two major bus crashes that left two people dead and dozens injured recently occurred despite a nationwide crackdown on unsafe motor coach operators.
On 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, Okla. According to authorities investigating the crash, 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 dozens 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, the driver of the Cardinal Coach Line bus that crashed in Texas, was investigated in another fatal bus accident in 1998. In that incident, the 65-year-old Rieve was driving a bus that struck a person on the side of the road who had stopped to help an accident scene.
In the second incident, 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. It was reported that the tree was the only thing that kept the bus from tumbling down a ravine. Authorities 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 exceeds the threshold for intervention,” which is likely why the company was subject to a recent review.
Federal transportation safety regulators have increased efforts recently to pull unsafe bus operators off the nation’s highways, a move that followed a number of deadly crashes in recent years involving motor coach and charter bus companies. In February, a bus carrying tourists from Tijuana, Mexico, crashed while coming down 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 the driver 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 have said that they will dispatch more than 50 safety investigators throughout the country to inspect “high risk” carriers, most of them smaller charter operators. The federal agency asked state regulators and local law enforcement agencies to help widen the crackdown, which launched on April 1. The first round of inspections targeted 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, that despite a number of safety initiatives introduced to improve safety, her agency was unhappy with results. In that regard, she wrote:
We continue to see an unacceptable number of bus companies and drivers operating unsafely, resulting in far too many crashes with devastating impacts.
According to federal safety records, 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.