HOUSTON - Citing a series of deadly accidents, highway safety advocates have called for tighter oversight for the businesses that do state inspections of buses and other large commercial vehicles.
Three of the deadliest bus crashes in recent years raised questions about the commercial vehicle inspection programs in Texas, Illinois, and Mississippi, and prompted calls from the National Transportation Safety Board for better oversight.
Forty people died in those accidents, yet the agency to which the recommendations were directed, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, failed to act. Anne Ferro, the agency’s administrator, declined to comment. The agency has said additional scrutiny of state programs is unneeded.
The inaction has rankled safety advocates, who think government regulators are not attentive to the needs of bus travelers.
“If you can’t afford to take a plane and have to take a bus, you are going to be subject to second-class safety standards, both in terms of equipment and oversight by the federal government,’’ said Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
Federal rules require that commercial vehicles be inspected annually. Those inspections can be done by state workers, private garages, or even the companies operating the vehicles. Passing a roadside inspection also can meet the requirement as long as it occurs within the previous year.
More than half the states have no prescribed inspection requirements, leaving it to the motor carriers themselves. And even those with approved private garages are not required to subject those companies to oversight or quality assurance.
Safety legislation approved in the Senate on March 14 as part of the highway funding bill would force the federal government to evaluate state inspection programs, but the legislation has stalled in the House.
Former Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration head John Hill, now a trucking industry consultant, said the agency does not have resources to monitor state commercial vehicle inspections. States typically employ people to do that, he said.
Documents recently obtained by the Associated Press shed light on the crash in the North Texas city of Sherman, one of the worst in US history.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators determined that a blown tire caused the bus with members of Houston’s Vietnamese Catholic community to a retreat in Missouri in August 2008 to run off the highway. But they also found evidence calling into question the inspection conducted by the a Houston business, 5 Minute Inspections, eight days earlier.
The safety board report cited evidence the bus had passed inspection despite defects.