Bus Livery Design (Photo credit: pantranco_bus)
Whether we’re traveling to a casino in a neighboring county or further for a vacation or just around our own city for a night out with friends that we don’t have to worry about drinking and driving, we often book trips on buses with the expectation of fun in our future-not tragedy. Across Southern California, the latter has proven to be the case far too often for the riders of motor coaches and party buses. Again and again, investigations into these crashes reveal improper vehicle maintenance and negligence on the part of the bus owners and operators, leading many to question how these companies are being regulated.
Motor Coaches: Throughout the country, 700 million people ride on motor coaches-as many as on domestic planes-every year. Over the last year, 12 serious tour bus crashes occurred in California, including one on a mountain road near Big Bear that killed eight people and injured another 32. An investigation revealed that the company that owned the bus involved in that accident, Scapadas Magicas, had been permitted to continue operating despite receiving 59 citations for safety violations. The agency responsible for regulating tour bus companies, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), had given Scapadas a “Satisfactory” rating prior to the deadly accident.
After the National Transportation Safety Board criticized the FMCSA for failing to shut down negligent bus operators before crashes occurred, the agency implemented a ‘Pattern of Safety Violations’ rule. Effective February 21, the rule enables the FMCSA to close down bus companies with histories of safety violations. While the agency inspected more than 850 buses and shut down at least 8 companies last year, its administrator, Anne Ferro, conceded to NBC that, with 354 tour bus companies operating in California, more inspections are necessary.
Party Buses: Even after inspectors have deemed a bus unsafe and barred it from service, the owner may still send it out to pick up passengers for a “party bus” ride. This was the case last September, when 24-year-old Christopher “C.J.” Saraceno II lost his balance and fell into the door of the bus, which, due to a mechanical problem, unexpectedly opened. Saraceno fell onto the 101 Freeway, where he was struck by multiple vehicles and killed. The owner of the bus had used it for profit 51 times after it was barred from service. The CHP recommended that he face a murder charge, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Similar cases have been documented in California and in Kansas.
Safer Transportation Options
While the FMCSA and CHP’s actions signal greater regulation of tour bus companies and harsher penalties for owners who knowingly endanger passengers, we may want to explore other transportation options like trains and planes until the tour bus industry improves its safety record.
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