Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP
Does the government regulate brakes on buses?

After a deadly California bus crash, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has banned the bus company Scapadas Magicas from operating on U.S. roads. It said the company was “an imminent hazard.” It appears the bus accident may have been caused by brake problems similar to issues that were noted on the company’s buses in the last few years.

In fact, a post-crash investigation of two other Scapadas Magicas busses found serious mechanical problems and safety violations. According to the FMCSA, the company did not inspect the buses regularly (as required by federal regulations) and there are significant safety management issues.

Which begs the question: Does the government regulate bus brakes? If so, how can a company with faulty brakes continue to transport passengers on U.S. roads?

The FMCSA has specific regulations for brake systems and maintenance as well as a booklet on using bus brake systems. Among other things:

  • Every commercial vehicle must have brakes that are able to stop and hold the vehicle, including parking and emergency brake systems
  • The brakes must be operable at all times
  • There must be working warning signals that tell the driver when the brakes have failed
  • The brakes must be able to develop a braking force that is at least a certain percentage of its gross weight
  • Brakes are among the mechanical systems that must be inspected periodically and are subject to random roadside inspections

If a bus fails a federal inspection, it is taken out of service until the defects can be fixed. Unfortunately, that does not trigger an inspection of the company’s other buses. Furthermore, multiple safety problems in a short amount of time will not necessarily lead to a company’s suspension.

In Scapadas Magicas case, there were vehicle maintenance violations in 21 of 25 recent inspections, but the company was only placed on a federal “watch list.” It took seven deaths and dozens of injuries before the government halted the company’s operations.

Thus, while there are safety regulations in place, they are not enough. We have seen far too many fatal and injury-causing bus accidents in the last few years. We hope that both the federal and state governments will act to make bus travel safer for all Americans and those visiting our country.

Source: The New York Times, “Bus Company Told to Cease After a Crash,” The Associated Press, Feb. 9, 2013

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