The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Thursday, June 30, said it ordered two bus companies to immediately cease all intrastate and interstate passenger service.
FMCSA says it ordered Georgia-based H & W Tour Inc. off the road within hours of the agency uncovering violations “so widespread as to demonstrate a continuing and flagrant general disregard” for the safety of its passengers and the motoring public. “Illegal and unscrupulous bus companies are a serious threat to innocent travelers,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “The full force of the federal government will be brought to bear on those who willfully place bus passengers and others who share the road in needless peril.”
FMCSA says evidence obtained during a compliance review conducted on Thursday, June 30, by safety investigators disclosed that H & W Tour Inc. continued transportation of passengers without federal operating authority and without the required level of insurance. The company failed to conduct pre-employment drug tests on its drivers and to institute a random drug and alcohol testing program as required by federal regulations.
FMCSA also says the company failed to ensure that its drivers comply with hours-of-service requirements, records of duty requirements and driver’s qualification requirements. Buses were not properly inspected, maintained or repaired by the company as required by federal regulations.
FMCSA says Mr. Ho Charter Service of Bethlehem, Pa., was ordered off the road for multiple drug and alcohol testing violations and for failing to ensure that its drivers comply with hours-of-service regulations. “Safety is my top priority, and any behavior that puts the traveling public at risk will not be tolerated,” LaHood says. “We will act immediately to take any carrier out of service that we find to be operating unsafely.”
On June 27, a motor coach operated by Mr. Ho Charter Service was involved in a crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The co-driver was killed, and 24 passengers and the driver were injured. Prior to the crash, on June 7, FMCSA safety investigators conducted a compliance review at the company, cited it for failure to conduct random drug and alcohol tests on its drivers and issued substantial civil penalty fines. By federal regulation, passenger carriers have 45 days to contest such citations.
FMCSA says that during this mandatory appeal period, Mr. Ho Charter Service continued to disregard federal regulations. The company hired two new drivers – the two drivers involved in the June 27 fatal crash – without requiring federally mandated pre-employment controlled substances tests on either driver. During the post-crash investigation, FMCSA safety investigators found that these same two drivers had falsified their records.
While the cause of the crash is under investigation by federal and state authorities, FMCSA has found, as stated in its Imminent Hazard Out-of-Service order, that Mr. Ho Charter Service’s behavior and actions “demonstrate a continuing disregard for compliance with [federal safety regulations] and a management philosophy indifferent to motor coach safety.”
FMCSA’s “Imminent Hazard Out of Service” order stated, “Individually and cumulatively, these violations and conditions of operation substantially increase the likelihood of serious injury or death to H & W Tour drivers, passengers and the motoring public.” The order directs H & W Tours buses currently on the road to “proceed to their next immediate destination … where the passengers can be safely accommodated.”