Tour bus companies running between Mexico and California must follow U.S. regulations like every other bus company on U.S. roads. They are subject to annual bus inspections as well as random roadside inspections.
Yet, the annual reviews are based on an honor system, allowing some bus companies to skirt the laws. For example, in its most recent review, Scapadas Magicas, the bus company involved in the deadly Big Bear bus accident, provided inaccurate information to federal officials. According to the Transportation Department, "Investigators have found that the company had failed to ensure that its vehicles were systematically inspected, repaired and maintained, and that its drivers were properly qualified and licensed, contrary to information provided by company officials in January 2013."
Scapadas Magicas did provide two buses for inspection in January, but it did not report all of its buses. For example, the company did not present the bus that was involved in the recent California bus accident for inspection. The CHP had inspected that bus during a random roadside stop in May 2012 and found it to have defective brakes -- more than 20 percent of the brakes were defective. Federal investigators believe that defective brakes may have caused the accident that killed seven people.
Because CHP inspectors cannot inspect buses in Mexico, they must rely on roadside inspections of those buses. For that reason, international buses are often subject to more random stops than U.S.-based companies.
What the Big Bear bus accident tells us is that more must be done to hold bus companies accountable, including buses owned by Mexican and U.S. bus companies. Bus companies found to violate regulations frequently and to operate unsafe buses must face suspension of operations earlier than they currently do. Passenger safety should be the number one focus of these companies.
The individuals injured and families who lost loved ones in the Scapadas Magicas bus accident have started to bring lawsuits against the company for its negligence. Hopefully, the lawsuits will send strong signals to Scapadas Magicas and similar errant bus companies that we will not accept sub-par safety standards.
Source: Los Angeles Times, "Crash opens window into cross-border bus safety," Richard Marosi, Ari Bloomekatz, Mar. 5, 2013