Fatal N.C. Bus Accident by Company Rated ‘Unsatisfactory’

A North Carolina bus company should have been ordered out-of-service immediately following an audit in March that resulted in several violations and rated the company “unsatisfactory,” according to a spokeswoman from the National Transportation Safety Board. Instead, 54 days later the charter bus company was involved in a fatal bus crash that killed four people and injured several others.
Greensboro injury lawyers know that charter companies have 45 days to get their act together after receiving an unsatisfactory rating or else risk being forced out of business. In this case, the problems weren’t fixed within the required time limit and innocent passengers paid the price. Charter companies have an obligation to provide mechanically sound buses operated by qualified drivers.

We first posted about the negligent charter company, Sky Express Inc., on our North Carolina Car Accident Lawyers Blog back in June. A bus driver employed by the company was charged with reckless driving from driver fatigue, which allegedly caused the fatal crash in Virginia. The tour bus was transporting passengers from Greensboro to New York City. Requiring drivers to be on duty for excessive amounts of time is dangerous and often increases the risk of a bus accident in Charlotte, Asheville or elsewhere in the state.

Bloomberg reports that bus safety auditors cited Sky Express Inc. for the following unlawful violations in March:
-A driver dependent on insulin and who was not medically cleared made a 938-mile trip – Four drivers with limited knowledge of the English language were unable to communicate and identify their employer -One driver employed by the company worked 11 straight days without a rest period
Many charter companies are cited for violations but aren’t ordered out-of-service until it is too late. In many cases it takes a fatal bus crash for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to shut down a charter company that is being cited for repetitive unlawful acts. By being more proactive, the FMCSA could save lives. There have been 28 deaths in 2011 caused by 8 fatal crashes in the United States.

Investigators discovered that Sky Express increased the number of drivers by five and the number of coaches by three in just a year’s time. Audit records showed Sky Express paid drivers $75 for a nine-hour trip, less than $8.50 an hour. A one-way Greyhound fare from Durham to New York averages anywhere from $55 to $126. Sky Express Inc. charges $30.

On May 12, officials at FMCSA reviewed and denied an appeal made by Sky Express Inc. that had arrived the day before. The bus carrier should have been shut down on May 28. Instead, the charter company was granted 10 more days for a “good faith” effort to comply with making changes that would no longer put them in violation of federal restrictions.

Some companies cut costs by hiring unqualified drivers so that they can pay them less, or operate with fewer drivers who are forced to work longer hours despite federal regulations to limit hours-of-service. Cutting costs puts a passenger’s safety in danger.

The NTSB and FMCSA are butting heads when it comes to keeping poorly operated bus companies out of business. The NTSB faults the agency for how it conducts its audits, for failing to follow-up with companies that have been cited prior to a crash and for how it inspects new companies.

What is the solution, other than taking precautionary measures to save lives of bus passengers? FMCSA hopes to gain more authority from Congress in order to shut down unsafe companies. The agency also wants to make it harder for companies who have been ordered out-of-service to reincarnate themselves into a new company that is in full operation. There also needs to be a tougher screening process for new companies which would include revoking a driver’s license if found in violation of drugs and alcohol.

“The Sky Express crash has been a very tough lesson for us,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro. “We have gone back and will continue to go back, to analyze the policies, procedures and systems that have been in place to see what it is that is driving an outcome like the one on Sky Express.”

If your or a loved one has been seriously or fatally injured in a tour or intercity bus accident in North Carolina, contact the personal injury attorneys at the Lee Law Offices, P.A for advice about your case. For a free and confidential appointment with an experienced bus accident attorney call 1-800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Unsafe Buses Run Until Fatal Crashes After U.S. Inaction, by Jeff Plungis, Bloomberg.

More Blog Entries:

Action Against Unsafe Motorcoach Companies Should Reduce the Risks of Bus Accidents in Charlotte, Greensboro, North Carolina Car Accident Lawyers Blog, July 26, 2011.

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