Bus Company Shut Down After Deadly Virginia Crash: Can New Regulations Help Stem Accidents?

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REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A Virginia State Patrol cruiser sits in front of the aftermath of an early-morning bus crash that killed four people, in the northbound lanes of Interstate 95 in Carmel Church, Virginia, May 31, 2011.

Sky Express, the tour bus company operating a bus that crashed Tuesday morning — killing four people on its way from North Carolina to New York City — has been shut down. The news came just hours after the driver of the bus Kin Yiu Cheung, 37, was charged with reckless driving.

After ruling out mechanical errors or malfunctions, Virginia state police charged Cheung, of Flushing, N.Y., for his part in driving the tour bus off the side of the road, killing four women and injuring 54 other passengers. The bus operator, Sky Express, was also revealed to have a dismal safety record and several violations on its record. The company performed worse than 97% of all passenger bus companies within the last 12 months, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), evidence enough for the company to be ordered out of service.

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The Virginia accident is the latest in a string of tour-bus accidents in the past year, including a March 12 bus crash in the Bronx, N.Y. that left 15 people dead. The driver of that bus, Ophadell Williams, reportedly fell asleep, but Williams says that he swerved to avoid a tractor-trailer and hit a pole that tore off the roof of the bus. Both the Virginia crash and the Bronx crash occurred on I-95, which is notorious for being a dangerous highway to travel in many of the populous cities it serves because of traffic and poor road conditions.

But the rash of accidents isn’t simply about a need for improvements to roads. On May 5, the Department of Transportation and the FMCSA unveiled new measures meant to improve passenger bus safety, including requiring more rigorous testing standards for commercial driver’s licenses (CDL). Under new rules, anyone applying for a CDL must first obtain a commercial driver’s learner’s permit, which was not previously a requirement. The FMCSA also now prohibits the use of foreign language interpreters in the testing system to reduce the potential for testing fraud. This issue has become particularly significant in the wake of popular so-called Chinatown bus companies carrying passengers between cities like New York, Washington D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia for bargain prices. The number of tour-bus companies operating in the various Chinatown districts has grown rapidly in the past several years and has not been highly regulated as a result.

Other provisions would require bus companies to pass a safety audit before receiving federal permission to begin operating. Surprise inspections over the past several months have pulled nearly 100 buses and more than 100 drivers off the road — an effort that will continue through the summer months when bus travel is higher than normal. The Department of Transportation also encourages passengers to research the safety records of bus companies they use on the FMCSA website.

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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also announced that it would be easier for the government to strip divers of their CDLs if they violate drug or alcohol laws while operating a vehicle of any kind; before a bus driver could potentially keep his or her personal driver’s license even if he had been found to be under the influence while driving a commercial bus. A recent crackdown in New York reflected the government’s seriousness about policing negligent drivers. On May 9, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that 46 drivers of tour buses and other commercial vehicles were charged with felonies for holding CDLs even though they had other licenses suspended at the time.

But safety advocates say that while these are welcome efforts, other issues that need to be addressed are requiring buses be outfitted with seat belts and reinforced roofs and windows to prevent passengers from being ejected in rollover accidents.

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7 comments
TobeyRayburn
TobeyRayburn

Fine...the kid was too "coddled" to know better???  Throw the PARENTS in jail!!  I generally think we're a "lawsuit happy" nation, but this is one instance I hope family members of those who died filed civil lawsuits against the parents.

jmac
jmac

Rich men walk.  Rich kids walk.   It's a part of our capitalistic system.  Money buys a good lawyer.   Money talks.  Even if you happen to be black, as OJ proved.  

Harley388
Harley388

What really bothers me about this "affluenza" defense is that it's completely hypocritical. Rich, but raised without any parental guidance means that you aren't held responsible for your crimes because your parents should have raised you better. If you're poor, though, and raised without parental guidance, then you're held accountable because you should have overcome your up bringing. What kind of double standard is that?

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Unbelievable.  "Affluenza" is NOT a named physological disorder or a medical illness.  It is a product of a defense attorney's creative courtroom conjuring.


As such, it should NOT be considered as part of any courtroom defense.

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

@Harley388 It's like the old joke about a young man killing his parents then begging for leniency because he's an orphan.

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

@mrbomb13 This may be one of those situations where the defendant's attorney was completely appalled at having won with this argument.  Talk about a truly horrific precedent.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@mrbomb13

The system protects itself.  The country in which Texas lies is not the United States.  It's a conglomeration of near-warring regions controlled by the wealthy - an oligarchy - each wanting what the other has.

The French found a rather creative way of dealing with the privileged and abusive wealthy after their aristocracy was ousted.  I think that's what it will take to restore the control of the country back into the hands of the people.  But as long as we're playing into their "my politics are better than your politics" smoke screens that keep us from seeing how they're exploiting us, it ain't gonna happen.