The head of the National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday chastised federal regulators for lax oversight of the tour bus industry, citing the deadly crash in February near Yucaipa that killed seven passengers and seriously injured about a dozen others.
Citing a record of safety violations at coach companies that went on to log deadly crashes, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration "need to crack down before crashes occur, not just after high visibility events."
"Our investigators found that in many cases the poor performing company was on FMCSA's radar for violations, but was allowed to continue operating and was not scrutinized closely until they had deadly crashes," she said.
The NTSB has recommended audits of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's oversight processes in light of several deadly crashes they investigated, including the California Highway 38 incident near Yucaipa.
The bus in that crash was under contract with InterBus Tours and Charters, based in Tijuana, and left the border town Sunday morning for a day trip to Big Bear. On the way down the mountain, a few miles from Yucaipa, the bus clipped a Saturn sedan and rolled onto its side, then collided with an oncoming pickup. The driver the truck also died.
The NTSB found that the bus operator, Scapadas Magicas -- based near the Mexico border in National City -- had been deemed by regulators to be an "imminent hazard" and slapped with an out-of-service order only after the deadly crash. Yet less than a month before, on Jan. 9, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials had completed a full compliance review of Scapadas Magicas because the company had an "alert" indicating vehicle maintenance problems.
Regulators had rated the company "satisfactory" even though no motor coaches were inspected during the review, the NTSB said.
The other three crashes the NTSB cited on Thursday included one that killed nine people in Pendleton, Ore., in December 2012, a fatal crash in Elizabethtown, Ky., in March and another in Murfreesboro, Tenn., in June.