A South Carolina church has been ordered out of the commercial transportation business, after an investigation into a fatal accident revealed numerous safety violations.

How it happened

In the accident that brought the Sandy River Baptist Church to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) attention, a motor coach commercially operated by the church experienced a front wheel failure that caused the vehicle to swerve and strike a median guardrail and a concrete bridge support near Rockingham, N.C. The motor coach had been transporting a junior college football team from Rock Hill, S.C. to Raeford, N.C.; five passengers were killed and 39 injured in the September 2016 crash.

On the day of the crash, the Chester, S.C. church was registered with FMCSA as a “private passenger carrier,” but had failed to:

  • comply with driver qualification requirements
  • properly monitor its drivers to ensure compliance with maximum hours-of-service requirements prohibiting fatigued operation of commercial motor vehicles
  • sufficiently implement a random alcohol and drug testing program for its drivers

A threat to public safety

After federal investigators - in coordination with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol - found it to pose an imminent hazard to public safety, the FMCSA earlier this month ordered the church to cease all intrastate and interstate commercial transportation.

Federal safety regulations require that any entity transporting passengers in interstate commerce for a fee or other compensation must obtain both USDOT operating authority registration and USDOT safety registration.  In applying for and in receiving USDOT operating authority registration, a business or a non-profit entity – including church organizations – affirms both the knowledge of and the ability to fully satisfy all vehicle and driver safety regulations that serve to protect drivers, passengers, and the motoring public.

In addition to possessing the necessary USDOT safety registration, under federal safety regulations, all commercial or “for-hire” passenger carriers operating in interstate commerce must maintain a minimum of $5 million in liability insurance documented on-file with FMCSA as a condition of operating authority registration.

Failure to comply with the provisions of a federal imminent hazard out-of-service order may result in action by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for equitable relief, as well as and civil penalties. Civil penalties of up to $25,705 may be assessed for each violation of the order. Knowing and/or willful violation of the order may also result in criminal charges.

Safe bus travel

Travelers planning a bus trip are also encouraged to think safety first before buying a ticket or chartering a bus by using FMCSA’s multilingual passenger carrier safety checklist at: http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/lookbeforeyoubook.