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4 commercial vehicle crashes spark criticism of federal agency

Federal law holds truck and bus drivers to a higher standard of safety than drivers of smaller vehicles. Commercial trucking and bussing companies are supposed to inspect and maintain their vehicles, and operators of those vehicles are expected to keep driving records and take breaks to avoid driver fatigue.

Unfortunately, though, violations of these federal regulations often lead to devastating bus and truck crashes in Pennsylvania and throughout the country. Now, after four particularly horrific accidents in four different states, the National Transportation Safety Board is looking to hold safety inspectors accountable for failing to notice regulatory violations.

One tractor-trailer crash in Tennessee involved eight other vehicles and killed two people. Six others were injured. In that case, the truck driver had violated federal regulations by driving too many hours consecutively. Further investigation showed that the driver's employer had a history of hours-of-service violations, but the company was still allowed to keep operating.

In another crash in California, a bus's brakes went out, and eight people, including a pickup truck driver, were killed. The brake failure occurred even though the bus company was given federal clearance for operation just one month before the accident. Two of the company's other vehicles were also found to have defects.

After a bus crash in Oregon that killed nine and injured 38, it was discovered that the bus driver had worked 92 hours over the course of eight days, badly exceeding the federal limit of 70 hours.

The fourth accident happened in Kentucky, where a truck driver had been behind the wheel for too many hours when his truck hit an SUV. The smaller vehicle exploded and collided with another car. Six people were killed, and two suffered injuries. Investigators found that the truck driver had secretly kept a fake log of his driving hours. The accurate log showed that he had been driving 10 days consecutively when the accident happened.

Now the NTSB is asking inspectors with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to explain themselves. The administration is in charge of inspecting and ensuring the safety of commercial buses and trucks.

While the federal safety agencies try to figure out a remedy to what is clearly a lack of oversight, victims of bus and truck accidents should be aware of their options for holding negligent and reckless parties accountable.

Source: myfoxphilly.com, "Gov't oversight of bus, truck industries faulted," Joan Lowy, Nov. 7, 2013

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Gregory R. Gifford
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