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Published: Thursday, 11/5/2009

Road to bus safety

WHEN a charter bus carrying 55 passengers careened off a highway bridge in Texas in August, 2008, it was already an accident waiting to happen. The news that the incident was preventable is small comfort to relatives of the 17 people who died, but it should galvanize state and federal oversight agencies and Congress to ensure that such a tragedy isn't repeated.

The National Transportation Safety Board discovered a whole series of missteps preceding the accident in one of the worst of its kind in U.S. history. Besides a compromised bus and driver, lax government oversight of the motorcoach industry appears to have contributed to a preventable disaster.

The bus had a retread tire on its right front axle that was punctured and lost air. Retread tires on the front of a bus are a violation of federal regulations. But a week before the crash, the bus passed an inspection at a state-certified shop in Houston, called Five Minute Inspections, despite several deficiencies including the retread.

Investigators also say the driver used cocaine a few hours before the accident and had been fired from a previous job as a Greyhound driver because of a positive cocaine test. Plus, the company hired for the charter bus trip to Missouri had no authority to operate outside Texas and was tied to another charter operator that had been shut down for violating federal safety standards.

A woman who lost her mother in the Texas bus crash called the NTSB findings a "perfect storm of gross negligence on the part of multiple parties."

It was that and more, highlighting the urgency for mandatedremedies, from improving state oversight of bus inspection facilities to greater federal authority to detect and remove "rogue" operators from the road before any lives are needlessly jeopardized again.

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