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NTSB points the finger at FMCSA in deadly truck and bus accidents

Yesterday, the National Transportation Safety Board released a scathing report accusing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration of critical negligence in at least four commercial bus and truck accidents it investigated. In just these four cases, 83 people were injured and 25 killed, and the NTSB charges that federal inspectors either missed or ignored obvious warning signs involving the very companies responsible.

When a passenger car collides with a commercial truck or interstate travel bus, the results are often catastrophic. The size, weight and unwieldiness of these vehicles makes creates such momentum in the crash that cars provide virtually no protection, regardless of their safety features. If a bus or truck has brake problems, or if an overworked driver is asleep at the wheel, there may be no chance to evade a serious or even deadly wreck.

The FMCSA is the division of the U.S. Department of Transportation responsible for regulating commercial vehicle safety, and it doesn’t even dispute the NTSB’s accusations. All its administrator could say in the agency’s defense is that it has stepped up its efforts to shut down dangerous carriers since 2010 -- despite having only 350 inspectors to regulate 10,000 interstate bus carriers and some half a million trucking companies.

For example, the NTSB investigated a June 13, multi-vehicle truck wreck in Tennessee. In that case, a commercial trucker, who had worked 10 hours longer than legally allowed per week, crashed into a car that had slowed down due to a wreck on the road ahead. That collision caused the car to erupt into flames, killing two occupants. The truck hurtled on and struck seven other vehicles, injuring six more people.

According to the NTSB, inspectors from the FMCSA were well aware that the trucking company involved had a history of scheduling drivers for more hours than allowed by law, and also that the particular driver was a habitual violator of federal work hours regulations. Nevertheless, the agency had only performed a limited inspection on its last visit.

That and other slip-ups cited in its report raise “serious questions about the oversight of motor carrier operations” in the U.S., the NTSB’s chairwoman said. “They need to crack down before crashes occur, not just after high-visibility events,” she added in a statement.

These accidents are simply too serious for regulators to ignore, and highway safety agencies must be fully funded. Otherwise, the results may be tragic.

Source: New York Times, “Federal Oversight Faulted in Truck and Bus Crashes,” Matthew L. Wald, Nov. 7, 2013

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