Bus operator should have been shut down before deadly crash

A new report released by National Transportation Safety Board found that federal regulators’ failure to shut down a discount bus operator after a slew of safety violations contributed to a fatal bus crash. Four bus passengers died and 14 people were seriously injured when the driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a guard rail, causing the bus to flip.

The NTSB investigation revealed that the bus driver had very limited commercial driving experience, and his work schedule showed little opportunity for sleep in the 72 hours before the bus crash.

The carrier, Sky Express, had multiple safety violations on record – including serious hours-of-service infractions and driver qualification violations.

“This crash should never have happened … It was entirely preventable. Those travelers were failed at three levels: by the driver, the operator and the regulator.” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) missed multiple opportunities to shut down the unsafe bus operator, according to the report. Sky Express had been cited for more than 200 safety violations in the year before the accident, and had been rated “unsatisfactory” – requiring the company to halt bus passenger service in 45 days unless it could prove the safety violations were fixed.

The safety problems were not fixed, but the FMCSA granted the bus company a 10-day extension: the deadly crash happened during the extension.

The NTSB report recommended that FMCSA change its rating system to make it easier to shut unsafe operators like Sky Express. FMCSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation will soon have more department legal authority to crack down on unsafe bus operators.

In the meantime, bus company safety ratings are available here.