As the summer travel season nears, federal and local inspectors are running roadside safety inspections of motor coaches and tour buses across 13 Eastern states and the District of Columbia.
The sweep, conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) with state and local law enforcement through the weekend, is part of a stepped-up federal effort to keep unsafe buses and drivers off the highways after several fatal bus crashes in recent years.
It comes as another federal agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, this week proposed anti-rollover equipment on motor coaches and big trucks.
And it coincides with the release of 1,600 pages of a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) probe into the deadly crash of a casino tour bus last year in New York City that put a spotlight on safety issues.
“Especially during the peak spring and summer travel seasons, we are working hard to remove any bus or driver that places passengers and other motorists at risk on the road,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday in a statement about the sweep.
In the safety sweep, inspectors will scrutinize buses and drivers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
They’ll be looking for mechanical problems such as with brakes, lights and engines, the FMCSA says. Drivers will be examined to ensure they’re medically fit, have their licenses, comply with safety rules and work the right number of hours.
“Our goal is to make bus travel as safe as possible — every trip, every time,” says Anne Ferro, who heads the administration that aims to prevent commercial-vehicle accidents and injuries.
Roadside motorcoach inspections have nearly doubled from 2005 to 2010, rising from 12,991 to 25,705, the agency says. Fifty-four companies were put out of service last year, including World Wide Travel of Greater New York, the owner of the bus involved in the New York City crash, which killed 15 people.
The crash March 12, 2011, on Interstate 95 near the Bronx and Westchester County line, points up issues of speed and driver fatigue.
The bus was traveling up to 78 mph in the minute before the crash, despite a 50 mph speed limit, according to one NTSB report. Another report found that only 15 cars out of 800 studied obeyed the speed limit on that stretch, and that one in six cars was going at least 67 mph.
The driver, Ophadell Williams, worked night shifts before the crash, the NTSB found. He had been driving from 11 p.m. March 10 until dropping passengers off at 1:45 a.m.
After a few hours off duty March 11, the report said, he picked up passengers at 6:15 a.m. and dropped them off at 9 a.m. He picked up passengers again at 7:45 p.m. and dropped them off at 10:30 p.m. — the night before the crash — and began the fatal trip at 3:30 a.m.
Cell phone logs obtained by NTSB show Williams making and receiving calls throughout the day on March 11 when he was off duty.
Williams told police he was in the center lane when a truck passing him on the left clipped his bumper and caused him to lose control.
But another truck driver, Joshua Reid, told the NTSB that he saw the bus pass him while driving “zigzaggy” and “extremely close to the guardrail” before he witnessed the crash ahead of him.
The anti-rollover equipment proposed for big buses by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration already has proved effective in reducing rollovers on cars and light trucks, agency Administrator David Strickland says.
The equipment, which monitors the vehicle’s movement and provides computer-assisted braking, could prevent more than half of the rollovers and one in seven out-of-control crashes, the agency says.
The public will have 90 days to comment on the standard, which is proposed to go into effect in two years.
In earlier efforts to bring safety to the industry, the FMCSA banned drivers from texting behind the wheel in January 2010 and from holding or dialing a cell phone last November.