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Gov't issues new regulations to make it easier to shut down unsafe bus, truck companies

FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2013 photo, investigators work the scene where a tour bus collided with a pickup truck on Highway 38 north of Yucaipa, Calif., killing eight people. Federal regulators ordered the tour bus operator, National City, Calif.-based Scapadas Magicas LLC, to immediately stop operating because its buses weren't properly maintained or inspected and its drivers weren't properly vetted for qualifications. Intercity bus and truck companies with a continuing history of safety problems will be easier to shut down under new regulations the Federal Motor Carrier Administration said Friday that it plans to issue. The regulations give the agency authority to put out of business operators who have been cited for repeated problems, even if their most recent inspection alone doesn't quite meet the threshold for closure, the agency said. (AP Photo/The Sun, Rick Sforza, File)

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FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2013 photo, investigators work the scene where a tour bus collided with a pickup truck on Highway 38 north of Yucaipa, Calif., killing eight people. Federal regulators ordered the tour bus operator, National City, Calif.-based Scapadas Magicas LLC, to immediately stop operating because its buses weren't properly maintained or inspected and its drivers weren't properly vetted for qualifications. Intercity bus and truck companies with a continuing history of safety problems will be easier to shut down under new regulations the Federal Motor Carrier Administration said Friday that it plans to issue. The regulations give the agency authority to put out of business operators who have been cited for repeated problems, even if their most recent inspection alone doesn't quite meet the threshold for closure, the agency said. (AP Photo/The Sun, Rick Sforza, File)

WASHINGTON - Intercity bus and truck companies with a continuing history of safety problems will be easier to shut down under regulations published online Friday by the Federal Motor Carrier Administration, an agency under fire for its oversight of the industries.

The regulations would give the agency authority to put out of business operators who have been cited for repeated problems, even if their most recent inspection alone doesn't quite meet the threshold for closure, the agency said.

The motor carrier administration was directed by Congress in a bill passed in 2012 to issue the regulations. Safety advocates have long criticized the agency for not being aggressive enough in closing unsafe truck and intercity and tour bus companies.

"We're pleased that they're doing this, but it's about time," said Jackie Gillen, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "It's outrageous that some of these carriers are still on the road and (the motor carrier administration) has looked the other way. Now, hopefully, that will change."

In November, the National Transportation Safety Board called for an investigation of the motor carrier administration, pointing to fatal bus and truck accidents that occurred after agency inspections.

In one crash, federal inspectors gave Scapadas Magicas, a California tour bus company, a satisfactory safety rating a month before one of the company's buses overturned near San Bernardino while returning from a ski resort last year. Seven passengers and a pickup truck driver were killed, and 11 passengers were seriously injured.

Federal inspectors didn't ask to examine the company's buses even though Scapadas Magicas buses had been cited previously for a host of mechanical problems during spot roadside inspections. All six brakes on the accident bus were found to be defective, according to the safety board. Later, two of the company's other buses were also found to have serious mechanical defects, and it was learned the company wasn't getting its buses regularly inspected by the state.

The motor carrier administration has been beefing up its oversight of the bus industry over the past year. A month after the safety board's call for an investigation, the agency announced it had shut down 52 bus companies in a nationwide crackdown.

The largest motor coach industry association supports the agency's expanded powers, with a few cautions.

Some carriers running high-profile routes have passed multiple inspections, yet remain under scrutiny, according to Dan Ronan, spokesman for the American Bus Association.

"Instead of being inspected three times in a short period of time, use those resources to find two other companies that may be troublemakers in the same area," he said.

The motor coach industry transports about 700 million passengers a year, roughly equivalent to the domestic airline industry.

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Associated Press writer Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy

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Online:

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration: http://1.usa.gov/1dCvipy

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