Investigators look over the scene where a tour bus crashed on California… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced a crackdown Thursday on what it calls "high risk" commercial bus companies that skirt safety measures and employ drivers who commit serious traffic offenses.
The move comes after two recent bus crashes, one in San Bernardino County earlier this month that killed seven people and another in December, in which nine people in Oregon perished on a vehicle operated by a driver who had worked beyond the 70-hour weekly maximum.
Federal officials over the next two months will step up inspections and encourage local police to focus enforcement on bus drivers who speed, make unsafe lane changes and use cellphones while driving.
"We've seen the tragic consequences when motor coach companies cut corners and do not make safety a top priority," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a prepared statement.
Federal officials described "high risk" bus companies as those whose practices vary from those of the rest of the industry, in such areas as operating schedules, equipment storage and driver qualifications. A company's location in Mexico, or Canada, as in the case with the bus involved in the Oregon crash, doesn't necessary place a company in the high risk category, said Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Transportation Department.
Although Scapadas Magicas, which owned the bus involved in the Feb. 3 San Bernardino County crash, has a business address in National City, its buses were parked in Tijuana, according to a former company administrator and inspection documents.
Regardless of where their depot is located, all commercial bus companies are required to undergo random roadside inspections and annual audits. In California, the CHP partners with federal authorities to handle enforcement of commercial bus line regulations.
Scapadas Magicas was shut down last week by the National Transportation Safety Board. The company has been hit in recent years with so many safety and maintenance citations it was placed on a federal watch list that flagged its buses for increased roadside inspections.