Thursday, April 17, 2008

State to Increase Fatigued Driver Enforcement

MOORHEAD, Minn. (April 15, 2008) — State and federal inspectors are examining hours of service logs for the motorcoach that crashed almost two weeks ago, killing a high school band student.

Capt. Ken Urquhart, commander of the state patrol’s commercial vehicle enforcement section, could not confirm whether or not fatigue was a factor in the crash but said there did not appear to be any mechanical problems with the motorcoach.

At around 5:45 a.m. on Saturday, April 5, two buses were carrying students home from a competition in Chicago along Interstate 94 near Albertville, Minn., some 170 miles from their school in Pelican Rapids, Minn. One of the buses left the roadway and turned on its side. Jessica Weishair, 16, died at the scene. According to Capt. Urquhart, neither the other bus nor other vehicles were involved in the crash.

On Monday, state investigators and a representative from the Federal Motor Carrier Administration visited to Richards Transportation Service, the owner of the bus. Capt. Urquhart said investigators will investigate the drivers of both motorcoaches and what they did during the 48 hours prior to the crash, including how much they slept. According to regional press, the FMCSA said the carrier had no crashes documented in the two years.

Capt. Urquhart said the investigation dovetails with a state-wide effort to address driver fatigue.

“As we all know, current hours of enforcement and compliance with those may not solve the whole fatigue problem,” Capt. Urquhart said. “A driver can have a virtually compliant log book and still not get the rest they need to be alert when they’re operating the vehicle.”

The state patrol will use the Moorhead crash and a February crash in Cottonwood, Minn, that killed four students and injured 13 others to increase inspection of fatigued motorcoach and school bus drivers. Under federal law interstate passenger bus drivers can’t drive more than 10 hours at a time and must rest for eight hours; drivers are also not allowed to work more than 15 hours in a 24-hour period or work more than 60 hours in a seven-day stretch.

In March, the FMCSA rejected the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation that the agency require all interstate commercial drivers, including school bus and motorcoach drivers, use electronic on-board data recorders (EBORs) and create a system to prevent tampering with traditional hours-of-service logs. The FMCSA said installing EBORs vehicles owned and operated by carriers with serious histories of non-compliance, as it had proposed in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, would be an more efficient efficient use of limited resources. The agency said it would address these issues in a final rule by the end of 2008.

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