The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced today that in the last two years, the Obama Administration has issued as many imminent hazard orders placing unsafe bus and truck companies out of service as in the previous 10 years combined. The DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has cracked down on unsafe carriers through surprise inspections, full compliance reviews, and enforcement actions.

Between 2000 and 2009, FMCSA issued a total of 14 imminent hazard orders placing unsafe carriers out of service. In the last two years, FMCSA issued another 14 imminent hazard orders to take carriers that pose an immediate risk to passengers off the road. One example cited: last month the DOT issued an imminent hazard order to a Michigan company found to be transporting passengers in luggage compartments -- at great risk to passengers.

In the past four months, FMCSA has issued eight out-of-service orders immediately following safety investigations that found the carriers and/or the drivers to be in such substantial non-compliance with federal safety regulations as to pose an imminent hazard to public safety.

The number of bus inspections and comprehensive safety reviews of the nation's estimated 4,000 passenger bus companies has doubled. Roadside inspections of motorcoaches have jumped nearly 100 percent, from 12,991 in 2005 to 25,703 in 2010, while compliance reviews are up 128 percent, from 457 in 2005 to 1,042 in 2010. In addition, FMCSA has initiated a greater number of enforcement cases against unsafe passenger carriers.

In May, FMCSA and its state and local law enforcement partners conducted more than 3,000 surprise passenger carrier safety inspections over a two-week period that resulted in 127 unsafe drivers and 315 unsafe vehicles being taken off the road.

DOT wants more enforcement tools

FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro said that most of the industry operates safely, but that Congress needs to supply her agency with new tools to prevent unsafe companies and drivers from operating.

The DOT has asked Congress to provide FMCSA with greater authority to pursue unsafe "reincarnated" passenger carriers by establishing a uniform federal standard to help determine whether a new carrier is a reincarnation of an old, unsafe carrier.

Also on the DOT’s “wish list”: a big hike in the penalty for operating illegally – from $2,000 a day to $25,000 per violation – and approval of a new procedure that would allow FMCSA to conduct bus safety inspections at en route locations such as rest stops, and to require new motorcoach companies to undergo a full safety audit before receiving operating authority.