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Transportation Dept. responds to lax bus safety policy, P.1

Under federal regulations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration may grant an extension only when a company submits a plan to address the noted safety problems. The extensions were apparently used to ensure that any shutdown would survive a court challenge, and give companies a chance to improve their compliance with safety regulations. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, since last October, has granted extensions eight different times to bus operators after having found serious violations of safety regulations.

Each of the eight operators apparently received 10-day extensions over and above the 45 day period required by law, during which the company could appeal the decision to pursue a shutdown and keep the company from operating. But after an accident on May 31 near Richmond, Virginia, Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood has brought an end to such extensions.

The crash which gave rise to the decision involved a Sky Express bus which crashed just outside Richmond, Virginia, kissing four passengers. That crash happened three days into a ten-day extension period granted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Some feel the behind-the-scenes safety reviews and 10-day extensions violated public trust. In response, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee recently held a hearing in which it explored whether the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is able to shut down unsafe bus operators and whether it has done enough to responds to recent accidents.

The practice of granting extensions has been pretty widespread. According to sources, 20 percent of the companies facing the threat of shutdown this year were given a 10-day extension in order to show they were moving forward with safety improvements. But it isn't clear that such extensions are in the service of public safety.

In our next post, we'll continue to explore this topic.

Source: Bloomberg, "Unsafe Buses Stay on Road as U.S. Regulator Backs Off Shutdowns," Jeff Plungis, 12 June 2011.

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