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Tired driver, federal government blamed for deadly bus crash

WASHINGTON (WTVR) – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has determined what caused a deadly tour bus crash on I-95 in Caroline County last year. Four people died and dozens were injured when the bus went off the interstate and crashed in May 2011.

The NTSB findings were revealed Tuesday morning at a board meeting in Washington, D.C.

The Sky Express bus driver admitted in court that he fell asleep behind the wheel. The driver and dispatcher will go on trial for involuntary manslaughter this Fall.

However, Tuesday’s NTSB meeting was to determine not only how the crash happened, but how to try and keep a similar crash from happening.

The report blamed the crash on three things:

  • a tired driver
  • an unsafe operator
  • ineffective government oversight

Passengers reported the driver was swerving, bobbing his head, and complaining to someone on his cell phone about being tired. He also consumed multiple cups of coffee and energy drinks in the hours leading up to the accident.

The report found Sky Express showed warning signs of a troubled carrier from the time it went into business. In fact, during its six years of operation, the company had undergone five safety inspections by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The board says Sky Express had 204 safety violations in the year alone leading up to the crash.

Even though those inspections found numerous problems, the report said Sky Express did little to fix them – and that the administration gave them too long a deadline to do so.

FMCSA granted Sky Express until June 7th to fix several problems, however the fatal crash occurred just days before the deadline.

“Unfortunately, our investigators see the tragic consequences of taking too little action too late,” says NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman.

On the one-year anniversary of the crash, the FMCSA shut down 26 passenger bus operations for repeated violations of safety rules.

The NTSB is now recommending a mandatory fatigue management program for all bus carriers and revised regulations on the amount of time a bus driver can be behind the wheel.

A new federal law signed earlier this month will also “raise the bar” for entry into the interstate bus business, significantly increase fines, and require all buses to have safety belts and stronger roofs.