Fatal Bus Crash: What Are the Regulations for Buses in California?


Last February, eight people were killed and dozens more injured as a result of a deadly tour bus crash near Big Bear. The crash led to concerns about the safety record of the bus company, which was subsequently shut down, and to questions about the safety regulations for buses in California, explains a bus accident lawyer in the state.

The tour bus, owned by a company called Scapadas Magicas LLC, was involved in an accident on California State Route 38 in which the bus collided with a truck and a sedan. Some of the passengers were trapped inside of the bus until rescuers were able to extricate them, while others were thrown from the vehicle.

There were 38 passengers in total, including adults and children. Rescuers set up a triage area along the roadside to stabilize those who had been seriously injured. Twenty-seven of the passengers were transported to local hospitals with injuries, including six people who were in critical condition. Eight of the passengers were killed in the accident.

Following the crash, authorities launched an investigation into Scapadas Magicas LLC, which also operated two other motor coaches. Investigators determined that the company had committed many safety violations. For example, the bus company had failed to properly screen its drivers to ensure they were licensed and qualified to carry passengers. The bus company had also failed in its obligations to regularly inspect, maintain and repair its vehicles.

Based on findings about Scapadas Magicas’ dismal safety record, investigators immediately shut down the company and forbid it from operating.

Laws Regulating Tour Buses

Federal and state laws regulate tour buses. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a host of requirements in place mandating that bus companies regularly maintain their vehicles; limit the amount of time that drivers can operate the buses; and ensure that drivers are qualified.

Section 396.3 establishes general inspection, repair and maintenance requirements and mandates that, “Every motor carrier and intermodal equipment provider must systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.”

Section 383.37 mandates that employers cannot knowingly employ drivers who do not have valid commercial driver’s licenses or who have had their licenses suspended for any reason.

These are just a few of the many safety rules and regulations that apply to employers. Drivers, individually, are also subject to the rules and regulations set forth by FMCSA. A complete listing of all regulations can be found on the agency’s website.

When a safety rule is violated, the bus company can have its operating authority suspended or revoked. Section 32112 of MAP-21 gives the FMCSA authority to “withhold, suspend, amend or revoke the operating authority” of registered motor carriers if they or any of their employees engage in a “pattern or practice of avoiding compliance” or concealing an absence of compliance with safety rules.

FMCSA recently proposed a change in regulations to make it even easier to take action against bus companies that engage in egregious failures of safety. In Docket NO FMCSA-2011-0231, a proposal was made to amend regulations in 49 CFR Parts 385 and 386. The proposed new regulation provides broader authority for FMCSA to suspend or revoke the charter of companies that are operated by people with a history of noncompliance. This change is necessary because some bus companies or motor carriers were simply closing their doors and opening under a new name after they had been suspended from operation due to safety violations.

With the current rules, however, FMCSA still has authority to take prompt action against bus companies that engage in dangerous behavior. States can also impose their own additional requirements for buses, supplementing the rules of FMCSA.

Scapadas Magicas LLC Shut Down

The authority of regulators was used to shut down Scapadas Magicas LLC. The company is also likely going to find itself the subject of lawsuits from victims who were involved in the bus crash that occurred last February.

The law allows for motor carriers and bus companies to be held liable both for their own negligence and for the imputed negligence of their drivers. With the company’s record of safety violations, the victims of the devastating bus accident should have little difficulty proving they are entitled to obtain compensation for their medical costs, pain and suffering, lost income and emotional distress damages arising from the wreck.

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