WASHINGTON — Hundreds of tractor-trailer and bus companies ordered to shut down because of federal safety violations ranging from suspended licenses to possible drug use have stayed on the road by using different names, investigators say.
The study by the Government Accountability Office, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, comes a year after an unlicensed charter bus carrying a Vietnamese-American Catholic group blew a retreaded tire installed on a steering axle and skidded off a Texas highway, killing 17 people in one of the nation’s deadliest bus crashes. The use of recapped tires on the steering wheels is a violation of federal regulations, the study stated.
The GAO report found that at least 20 of the roughly 220 commercial bus companies that had been fined and ordered out of service in 2007 and 2008 by federal regulators evaded compliance by setting up shop under a new name, the same tactic used by the bus operator in the Texas crash.
The investigation found offenders in at least nine states — Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, New York and Washington. The violators owed tens of thousands of dollars in delinquent fines and had scores of violations, from operating without the proper license to failing to test drivers for illegal drugs and alcohol.
Another 1,073 commercial trucking firms are also believed to be possible “reincarnations” after incurring fines and violations, often using the same address, owner name, employees and contact numbers. In all more than 500 of the tractor-trailer and bus companies were still operating as recently as last month, investigators said. “These companies pose a safety threat to the motoring public,” wrote Greg Kutz, GAO’s managing director for special investigations, noting that there were about 300 fatalities from bus crashes last year. “We believe that these carriers reincarnated into new companies to evade fines and avoid performing the necessary corrective actions.” He warned that the number of violators is likely higher, since the GAO reviews only identified companies based on exact matches of information.