The inspection- and- compliance blitz that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Admin. (FMCSA) has been pressing at the direction of Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood against unsafe motorcoach operations in the wake of several horrific bus accidents shows no sign of letting up as the summer driving season gets fully under way. In just 24 hours this week, the agency put out of service (OOS) two bus operations for severe safety violations.
On Wednesday, FMCSA said it ordered Georgia-based H & W Tour, Inc., to immediately cease all intrastate and interstate passenger service “within hours” of the agency uncovering violations “so widespread as to demonstrate a continuing and flagrant general disregard” for the safety of its passengers and the motoring public.
And less than 24 hours later, FMCSA announced it had ordered Mr. Ho Charter Service of Bethlehem, PA, “to immediately cease all intrastate and interstate passenger service for multiple drug and alcohol testing violations and for failing to ensure that its drivers comply with hours-of-service regulations.”
“Safety is my top priority and any behavior that puts the traveling public at risk will not be tolerated,” observed LaHood. “We will act immediately to take any carrier out of service that we find to be operating unsafely.”
Evidence obtained during a compliance review of H & W Tour, Inc. conducted the day after the OOS order by FMCSA Safety Investigators revealed that H & W had continued transporting passengers without federal operating authority and without the required level of insurance.
What’s more, according to the agency, the company failed to conduct pre-employment drug tests on its drivers and did not institute a random drug and alcohol testing program as required by federal regs. And H & W failed to ensure that its drivers comply with hours-of-service requirements, records-of-duty requirements and driver’s qualification requirements.
On top of all that, H & W buses were found to not have been properly inspected, maintained or repaired by the company as required by federal regulations, added FMCSA.
The official “Imminent Hazard Out of Service” order issued stated that: “Individually and cumulatively, these violations and conditions of operation substantially increase the likelihood of serious injury or death to H & W Tour drivers, passengers and the motoring public.”
As for Mr. Ho Charter Service, FMCSA said that on June 27, a motorcoach operated by the firm was involved in a crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that killed the co-driver and injured the driver and 24 passengers.
Back on June 7, FMCSA said its Safety Investigators had conducted a compliance review on the charter company. At that time, FMCSA cited the company for failure to conduct random drug and alcohol tests on its drivers and issued “substantial” civil penalty fines. The agency noted that by federal regulation, passenger carriers have 45 days to contest such citations.
But during the mandatory appeal period, according to FMCSA, Mr. Ho Charter Service continued to disregard federal regulations. “The company hired two new drivers – the two drivers involved in the June 27 fatal crash – without requiring federally mandated pre-employment controlled substances tests on either driver,” stated the agency And during the post-crash investigation, FMCSA Safety Investigators found that these same two drivers had falsified their records.
FMCSA pointed out too that while the cause of the crash is under investigation by federal and state authorities, it found--- as stated in its Imminent Hazard Out-of-Service order-- that Mr. Ho Charter Service’s “behavior and actions demonstrate a continuing disregard for compliance with [federal safety regulations] and a management philosophy indifferent to motor coach safety.”
“Illegal and unscrupulous bus companies are a serious threat to innocent travelers,” added LaHood. “The full force of the federal government will be brought to bear on those who willfully place bus passengers and others who share the road in needless peril.”