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Michael Phelan
Michael Phelan
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It Makes No Sense That States Can Randomly Inspect Trucks But Not Buses


The Virginia bus crash last week that killed four and injured over 50 people has re-ignited the debate over a massive transportation spending bill that Congress passed in 2005 called SAFE-TEA-LU. Paradoxically, that legislation encouraged random truck inspections, but put severe limits on when buses can be inspected.

Stephen A. Keppler, executive director of a Maryland-based safety alliance, said:

The same legislation that is encouraging truck inspections is discouraging bus inspections. Which cargo is more important?

On Tuesday, the safety alliance called for Congress to lift the ban on roadside bus inspections. In Virginia, where this is an acute issue, Col. W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said, "we don’t have a way to do random inspections [of buses] right now." Currently, police are permitted to inspect commercial buses primarily at the terminals where they begin or end their trips. This system is almost completely ineffective with regard to low-cost curbside operators like Sky Express, Inc. who do not operate out of traditional terminal systems. When you are charging only $30.00 for a trip from NC to Chinatown in New York City, you can tell passengers to assemble just about anywhere.

Prior to the 2005 legislation, police had the authority to inspect commercial buses en route, as well as at the beginning or end of their trips. Now, police can’t stop a commercial bus except for obvious safety reasons. Conversely, commercial trucks are required to submit to random inspections at highway inspection stations. According to Capt. Steve Dowling, an officer with the California Highway Patrol and the president of Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance:

States need the ability to inspect buses randomly, just as they do trucks. Had the bus in the Virginia crash been required to enter an inspection station, the accident might not have happened.

0ne cannot be sure about what Capt. Dowling speculates, but, based on what the passengers on the Sky Express bus are saying, I suspect it is so. Passengers report hearing the driver complain of being too tired to drive and of seeing the driver purchase several cans of Red Bull, coffee and gum during the multiple unscheduled stops the driver made during the trip. Passengers also realized the bus was swerving on the highway. If these passengers had the opportunity to report this at a random inspection site, I’m sure the driver would have be taken off the road.

Why would Congress treat commercial buses carrying 50 humans so differently than it treats an 18 wheeler carrying chickens? I smell a lobbyist somewhere.


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  1. Truckie D says:
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    Michael –

    Well said.


  2. Michael Phelan says:
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    Thank you Truckie D. I’ve missed your posts.