18-wheeler and bus companies ordered to shut down because of safety violations have stayed on the road by changing their name. A study by the Government Accountability Office, obtained and reported by The Associated Press, found that commercial bus companies fined and ordered out of service in 2007 and 2008 continue to operate under a new name.
The violators owed delinquent fines and had scores of violations, from operating without the proper license to failing to test drivers for illegal drugs and alcohol. This same tactic was used by a driver in a horrific Texas accident where an unlicensed charter bus carrying a Vietnamese-American Catholic group blew a retreaded tire installed on a steering axle and skidded off the highway killing 17 people in one of the nation’s deadliest bus crashes. The use of a recapped tire on the steering wheel is a violation of Federal regulations.
Investigators said that more than 500 of the tractor-trailer and bus companies were still operating. These companies pose a safety threat to each one of us on the roadway. These motor-carrier and bus companies that reincarnate themselves under a new name to evade out of service orders and fines should be prosecuted criminally and their vehicles seized.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has responded to the report by stating it has put in place a computer matching process to compare new applicants to poor performing motor carriers dating back to 2003. Still, the GAO said the FMCSA did not yet have full computer capability to identify companies that had used similar addresses and names but not necessarily exact matches of each other.
In the Texas crash, Iguala BusMex Inc. of Houston had received a Transportation Department number and was awaiting approval for a federal license when one of its buses crashed near Sherman on Aug. 8. The company was run by Angel de la Torre, who operated Angel Tours Inc., which was forced to take its vehicles out of interstate service just two months earlier after an unsatisfactory review by federal regulators.
Other cases cited by GAO, without identifying the companies were:
- Inspectors examined a bus operated by a Texas bus company in October 2006, fining it $850 after deeming the vehicle unsafe to drive. A few months later, the company was found illegally transporting 33 passengers from Mexico into the U.S. and was fined $2,380. That same month, a new company opened with two of the same drivers, three of the same vehicles, the same last name for the company owner and virtually identical addresses. The new firm operated for 18 months before it was cited for drug testing violations in September 2008; it was ordered out of service last month.
- An Arkansas motor carrier was cited for nine safety violations in May 2007, including failing to get the proper licenses and maintaining driver qualification files, and fined $3,050. A new company with the same business address, phone number and company officer name started in June 2007, three months before the old carrier was ordered out of service. The new carrier operated for more than a year before it was cited in November 2008 for violations including insufficient registration. A $2,000 fine was assessed; the company was ordered out of service in March.
- A California bus company was cited for 18 safety violations in May 2007, including drivers who refused to take mandatory drug tests, and was fined $2,200. The carrier began to correct some of its violations but failed to pay the fine. A new company with the same phone number, fax number and company officer name was formed in October 2007. FMCSA subsequently ordered the old company out of service in February; the new company was still active as of May.