Washington, D.C.—As scores of tour buses rolled into Washington, D.C., just as the city’s famed cherry blossoms were reaching their early April peak, many were taken through their safety paces.
The unannounced Level I safety inspection, based on the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) North American Out of Service Criteria, is a yearly event that has been around for about two decades. It has grown to include the National Park Police, D.C. Metropolitan Police and the Virginia State Police because of the manpower required to take more than 130 vehicles through a 37-point checklist.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Ray Martinez sees the inspections as an important way to ensure safe and reliable motorcoaches.
“I believe it’s been a great success,” said Martinez, who came by the picturesque Hains Point to watch the inspections on a cloudy April day and talk to Bus & Motorcoach News about benefits of the inspections. “We’ve been working with the associations to get the word out just like we do with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s International Roadcheck that occurs in early June each year. We have seen violations, particularly out-of-service violations, drop dramatically from when these kinds of inspections were first started.”
‘Good for industry’
Each of these inspections lasted about 45 minutes. They involved confirming that drivers had their commercial driver’s license and that current medical and other paper was in order, along with hours-of-service compliance and detailed checks of buses. Vehicles were driven up on metal makeshift ramps, allowing officers to roll underneath the vehicles to get a closer look. Steering, listening for air leaks, frame cracks, and brake pad wear are just a part of this comprehensive inspection.
Those who get through the inspection without any violations receive a windshield sticker that lets them avoid bypass roadside inspections for the next 90 days — and prevents the same vehicle from being inspected in this random process.
In a city known for its congestion and short supply of parking, Hains Point is an ideal spot for these inspections, because it is a bit out of the way and offers lots of room for parking big vehicles.”
“This is actually good for the industry and the employees,” Martinez said. “You set the bar high in terms of safety. We know that most of the operators run good operations. They want safe buses out there. They want the bad actors, the kind of fly-by-night operations, out of the mix. It’s a cooperative type of an endeavor to make sure that everybody’s on the same safety playing field.”
These safety inspections are done in a consistent manner across the country from Atlantic City to the Grand Canyon, in addition to terminal or origin inspections —generally wherever there are concentrations of buses dropped off passengers.
Range of violations
For safety purposes, these inspections are typically done when buses are empty of passengers — unless an “imminent hazard” violation is apparent, such as a wheel in danger of coming off, or unsafe driving behavior by the operator.
Spring marks the high season in the nation’s capital, with school trips and spring breakers coming to visit the museums and monuments, bringing a stream of motorcoaches around the National Mall.
Over the next several months, there will be inspectors at major destinations and landmarks nationwide, checking vehicles to ensure the safety of millions of travelers, Martinez said.
While this recent inspection focused on passenger carriers, from sprinter vans to yellow school buses to motorcoaches, a number of commercial trucks were also directed by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department to the inspection site. Among the violations discovered included drivers’ failure to produce valid medical cards, non-operational emergency exit doors, leaking fuel and wheels with missing lug nuts. These specific violations resulted in out-of-service citations, requiring operators to bring in new buses while repairs were made.
Overall, the majority passed.
“Most of the companies know it’s good business to run compliant,” said Martinez. “Most drivers are ready with their documentation, they know the inspection procedure, and they are confident that their vehicles are well-maintained. It’s everyone’s goal that every traveler on our highways and roads reach their destination safely. The safety inspections are really a matter of working together, and it’s rewarding when a driver and a vehicle pass with flying colors.”