Following last week’s fatal charter bus accident in Queens that killed three victims, officials and advocates are again demanding a closer look into thousands of private bus companies operating in the U.S. While what they are likely to find, unfortunately, is nothing secret, it is incredibly alarming. That’s because many private bus companies with poor safety records and numerous violations continue to operate and serve riders – and they are able to do so because local governments have little power to regulate and take action.
Dahlia Group, the company responsible for the charter bus involved in last week’s tragic crash, is one example of bus companies that continue operations despite questionable safety records. An investigation into Dahlia Group’s safety record revealed that the company was involved in two other fatal accidents in the past 14 years, both of which occurred while passengers were being transported to local casinos, and that the bus driver, who investigators stated was speeding at the time of the crash, had previously been convicted of drunk driving and was fired by the MTA.
Although the cause of last week’s wreck has still not been determined, Dahlia Group’s checkered past is more common than most would think in the private bus industry. This includes Yep Tour, a private bus company that continues to operate in New York despite having received more than 200 safety violations in the past two years and pleas from city officials to shut it down. Data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which oversees interstate bus and trucking companies, places Yep Tour in the bottom 10% of all bus companies in the country for three years running. Although three Yep Tour buses were seized by NYC authorities after the company failed to pay over $300,000 in fines, the city still issued Yep Tour a permit for it to pick up and drop off passengers between New York, Pennsylvania, and even Washington, DC when the Massachusetts-based company successfully argued that the city did not have the right to interfere with an out-of-state company’s interstate operations.
In a $5 billion private bus industry with over 3,200 operators, including many discount and budget bus companies that contract with casinos to ferry gamblers, many companies have distressing records of violating safety rules, poorly maintaining vehicles, overworking employees, and failing to properly test and qualify drivers. Those bus companies and their spotty records often come to light only after tragedy strikes, and when local lawmakers attempt to make changes or tighten regulations in response, they find that they are limited due to the fact that federal law pre-empts local laws when it comes to buses.
As experts state, the problem with enacting safety changes and getting unsafe bus companies off the road stems from a patchwork system where buses are overseen and regulated by the federal, state, and local government. Although states have licensing powers, local agencies have little ability to limit the activity of bus companies. Unfortunately, the federal government, which does have that ability, often falls short in taking action against bus lines with excessive safety violations. While we have reported on large-scale federal investigations into the bus industry in the past, advocates argue that more can be done, especially when it comes to oversight of all companies and their safety records.
While budget bus lines provide a needed service to consumers, that service should never come at the expense of public safety. As a personal injury law firm with experience representing victims of bus accidents, tractor-trailer wrecks, and other serious accidents involving corporations, we have seen all too often how companies will continue to skirt laws and prioritize profits over people when they are not held accountable.
Because there are difficulties in regulation at the local level – and a need for better oversight overall that will ensure transportation companies take reasonable measures to prevent tragedies – it is often the case that these companies are only called out and held accountable when victims and families hold them civilly liable. These civil personal injury and wrongful death cases are powerful tools for victims to secure justice after being harmed and wronged by negligent conduct, and they are critical to raising awareness and sending a message to other operators that such conduct will not be tolerated. However, the fight to prevent tragedies that could and should be prevented still requires better regulations and laws.
In the face of challenges posed by lax regulatory policies, poor oversight, and other issues, our Washington, DC personal injury lawyers at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. take our role as advocates all the more seriously. As we fight for victims and families who have already been harmed, we also fight to prevent similar tragedies from affecting innocent victims in the future. We believe we play an important role for both our clients and public safety, which is why we always fight aggressively when working to hold corporations accountable for their negligence.
If you have questions regarding your rights after a bus accident or any other preventable accident, our legal team is available to fight on your behalf. Contact us to discuss your needs during a free consultation.