Protecting Passengers in North Carolina
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is cracking down on motor coach companies operating with a blatant disregard for federal safety regulations. “Safety is my top priority and any behavior that puts the traveling public at risk will not be tolerated,” said Ray LaHood, U.S. Transportation secretary.
Mr. Ho Charter Service discovered how serious LaHood is when one of its motor coaches was involved in a fatal crash. On June 27, 2011, 24 passengers and a co-driver were killed and the other driver was seriously injured in a crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The catastrophic accident became more tragic when it was discovered that the charter service had repeatedly disregarded federal regulations for mandatory drug and alcohol testing after FMCSA compliance reviews. It has now been issued an Out-of-Service Order, suspending it from further operations.
Drug and alcohol related motor coach, truck and bus accidents present serious liability issues for North Carolina carriers. USDOT regulations require employees to submit to drug and alcohol testing before they are hired, after any crash has taken place, as well as randomly throughout the year. Employees testing positive for drugs or alcohol violations must immediately be suspended from driving and other safety-related job functions.
Monitoring and Enforcement of Regulations
Across the country, nearly 4,000 motor coach companies transport about 750 million passengers annually. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) views motor coaches as one of the safest vehicles on the road since just a fraction of all motor vehicle deaths can be attributed to the busses. However, the FMCSA is working to make sure passengers are further protected by tightening safety regulations.
Though the FMSCA’s efforts are respectable, there is question as to whether or not the FMSCA will be able to monitor and control carrier compliance. Over the past three years, more than 700 of the 3,100 licensed motor coach operators have not undergone compliance review. In fact, the FMSCA has focused on inspections of individual coaches and drivers, which take place at bus destinations such as casinos.
In cases where there is an imminent hazard to public safety, such as with Mr. Ho Charter Service, the FMCSA will issue an Operations Out-of-Service Order. This, in essence, is a cease and desist order to stop all motor vehicle operations until the company can demonstrate compliance with federal safety regulations. The order identifies all areas of concern and outlines the compliance requirements for the company involved.
Penalties for Noncompliance
Provisions of the order vary based on the violations, but may include required controlled substances tests for drivers, installed Automatic On-Board Recording Devices and updated safety management systems. Companies issued the orders will also be required to identify the causes of noncompliance and to develop a detailed plan to overcome noncompliance. If the company fails to meet the requirements it may be assessed civil and criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment.
For families affected by these violations, the government penalties may be cold comfort.
In addition to the trauma of having a loved one maimed or killed, there are frequently extensive medical expenses. North Carolina motor coach and truck accident attorneys are frequently a source of compassion for these families.
If you have been injured in a motor coach accident you should contact an experienced bus accident lawyer who can review your case with you and explain your options.