NEW YORK — Federal accident investigators called on Thursday for a probe of the government agency charged with ensuring the safety of commercial vehicles, saying their own look into four tour bus and truck crashes that killed 25 people raises "serious questions" about how well the agency is doing its job.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspectors failed to respond to red flags indicating significant safety problems on the part of bus and truck companies involved in accidents in California, Oregon, Kentucky and Tennessee, documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board said. Besides those killed, 83 other people were injured in the crashes, many of them seriously.
The motor carrier administration needs to crack down on bad actors "before crashes occur, not just after high visibility events," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman.
In one crash, federal inspectors gave a California tour bus company safety clearance a month before one of the company's buses overturned near San Bernardino last February while returning from a ski resort. Seven passengers and a pickup truck driver were killed, 11 passengers were seriously injured and 22 others received minor to moderate injuries. The bus driver told passengers the bus' brakes had failed.
Federal inspectors didn't ask to examine Scapadas Magicas' buses during their visit to the company's headquarters near San Diego even though the company's buses had been cited previously for a host of mechanical problems during spot roadside inspections.
California Highway Patrol crash investigators found a catastrophic failure of the brakes that a proper inspection by federal officials could have foreseen. All six brakes on the crashed bus were defective, according to the NTSB's report. Drums were worn or cracked, linings were worn down and some were otherwise "defective or inoperative."
Two of the company's other buses had serious mechanical defects, and the company had failed to have its buses regularly inspected by the state.