Industry briefs: December 1, 2019 edition

Martinez leaving FMCSA

Ray Martinez left his position atop the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at the end of October after 18 months as administrator. He is moving to the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he will supervise redevelopment construction.

“FMCSA made great strides under Administrator Martinez’s leadership,” said Stacy Tetschner, president and chief executive officer of the United Motorcoach Association. “His sensible approach to safety and regulatory reform was a refreshing change. We wish him continued success in future endeavors.”

FMCSA Chief Counsel Jim Mullen will become deputy administrator and is expected to assume the role of acting administrator until another administrator is nominated and approved.

“UMA is anxious to work with FMCSA’s new leadership to continue our industry’s already safe operations and look for opportunities to make it even safer,” Tetschner said.

Unregistered tour bus impounded for violations

An unregistered Niagara Falls tour bus was impounded and its unlicensed driver was arrested on Oct. 11, two hours after it had been placed out of service for safety violations, Niagara Falls Police reported.

According to the Buffalo News, “an out-of-service sticker had been scraped off the window by the driver,” who “told  police the (13) passengers were ‘family members and friends,’ but officers reported that they learned the group was on a trip with Mayi Tours out of New York City and were eventually bound for Chicago.”

The newspaper stated that the driver was cited for 10 state and federal violations. “The bus was operating as a commercial bus but bore passenger license plates; it carried insufficient insurance; neither the driver nor the carrier were registered with the state or federal  transportation departments; the driver had no commercial driver’s license nor passenger endorsement; and the vehicle carried no log book.”

Police said the driver, Jian W. Jing, 34, of Flushing, New York, was cited for similar violations in Washington, D.C., in October of 2018.

Voluntary recall of Thomas Built school buses

A voluntary recall of Thomas Built school buses has been issued because knee padding foam on seat backs may not conform with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Daimler Trucks North America, parent company of Thomas Built, reported that the defect may affect 50 percent of 53,528 buses built for the 2015-2020 model years from Aug. 18, 2014, through Aug. 15, 2019. The recall covers SynTec S3B and S3C seats.

In the October 4 notice from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Daimler Trucks said it would officially notify dealers and owners of the recall on Dec. 2 and would rectify the defect at authorized Daimler Trucks service centers.

“Seats will be augmented by installation of an additional impact material,” Daimler announced. “The impact material can be installed in the vehicle without taking the bus out of service. Copies of the reimbursement plan will be submitted as a supplemental report when available.”

Niagara Falls seeks $20 surcharge on tourist buses

The Niagara Falls City Council has passed a resolution calling for surcharges on tourists visiting Niagara Falls State park, claiming “we don’t get anything” for hosting the 9.5 million annual visitors to the park.

“For years, Niagara Falls residents and officials have complained about the lack of direct impact the city gets from the millions of tourists who visit each year,” reported the Buffalo News. “The proposal, which would require passage of a state law, would add $5 per car or $20 per bus to the $10 parking fee in the state park, and it would add $2 to the cost of any tickets for an attraction within the park, such as the Maid of the Mist or the Cave of the Winds.”

The surcharges would net the city $12 to $14 million each year. An estimated one million vehicles visit annually. The resolution passed with a 5-0 vote.

“It’s basically a tourist tax for using our amenities,” said Councilman Kenneth M. Tompkins, lead sponsor of the resolution. “We don’t get anything from hosting that state park.”

Truckers’ damage verdicts add up

A New Mexico State District Court jury in Santa Fe has awarded $40.5 million in damages to the family of a woman killed in a 2017 collision with a truck operated by Werner Enterprises of Omaha, Nebraska. The tractor-trailer truck’s driver, on his eighth day with the company, crossed four lanes of traffic and a paved median on Interstate 10 before striking the vehicle driven by Kathryn Armijo, 54, of Deming, New Mexico. Jurors found the driver, his trainer and Werner negligent in the crash.

In 2018 a jury in Houston, Texas, awarded the family of crash victims $89.7 million following a 2014 crash in that killed a seven-year-old and paralyzed a 12-year-old. The children were passengers in a pickup truck that spun in freezing rain and crossed the median into the path of a Werner tractor-trailer. Plaintiffs for the family argued that the truck driver should have stopped his truck on the shoulder before the collision due to the poor conditions.

Jury verdicts resulting from a fatal 2015 accident forced Cool Runnings Express of London, Kentucky, to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky on Oct. 1. The filing stated that 10 lawsuits have arisen from the crash. The carrier claimed assets of $101,423 and liabilities of $331.3 million.

The driver of the truck, Benjamin Brewer, was sentenced to 55 years in prison without parole for causing the 18-vehicle crash in a work zone on Interstate 75 near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Six people were killed and four were injured. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that the driver had falsified his records-of-duty-status logs prior to the incident. The National Transportation Safety Board reported that he had used methamphetamine prior to the crash and was driving 78 to 82 mph in the work zone.

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