The driver of a bus that crashed in Oregon last week, killing nine and injuring 39, had been on the road too long without rest, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). On Tuesday, calling it “an imminent hazard to the public,” the department ordered the Canadian company running the bus to cease operations in the United States.
Driver Haeng Kyu Hwang had worked 92 hours in the seven days preceding the Dec. 30 crash for Coquitlam, B.C.-based Mi Joo Tour & Travel – well beyond the 70-hour maximum hours of service per week permitted under federal regulations.
His bus and a second Mi Joo tour bus were traveling from Las Vegas to Vancouver, B.C., the tail end of a West Coast tour. The driver of the second bus had also been on duty too long, according to investigators for USDOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Investigators found the company had not been recording its drivers’ hours on the road, rest breaks and off-duty periods as mandated by U.S. safety regulations. According to the USDOT’s order, investigators found deterioration in the company’s “safety-management controls and widespread safety violations that demonstrate a continuing and flagrant general disregard for compliance.”
On the day of the crash, the driver lost control of the tour bus while driving downhill on an icy part of Oregon’s Interstate 84 near an area called Deadman Pass, according to Oregon State Police. After slamming into a concrete barrier, the bus careened across the opposite lanes and plunged 200 feet down an embankment.
Several survivors have said they remember asking the driver to slow down before the crash happened, but to no avail.
A check of a USDOT online database telling its visitors “Don’t risk your life … by making an uninformed decision” shows that the tour company had the highest safety rating – satisfactory – at the time of the crash.
However, USDOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration investigators found that before the crash, Mi Joo Tour & Travel of Coquitlam, B.C., had violated several safety regulations that may have made the Dec. 30 crash more likely to happen.
The company had not been recording its drivers’ hours of driving time, rest breaks and off-duty periods as mandated by U.S. safety regulations. According to a USDOT statement, the company had “established a pattern and practice of scheduling and dispatching drivers on trips without regard to hours of service requirements.”
The company had also been fined several times for a failure to meet drug and alcohol testing requirements. USDOT fined the company more than once in 2010 and suspended its operations for two months in 2011 until it paid another fine that year.
But the company continued to operate in the United States even during that 2011 suspension, USDOT’s most recent investigation of the company found.
Dan Uhm, of Seattle, whose mother, Eun Sook Uhm, barely survived the crash, said minority populations such as the Korean community that frequently took the bus-company tours are even more vulnerable to companies with sketchy safety records because of language barriers.
“They’re assuming that anything they’re participating in is going to be regulated by U.S. agencies and that they have zero reason to suspect there would be any additional risk by going with this company,” Uhm said.
Many of the nine people who died in the crash had Puget Sound-area connections.
If you are injured during an organized tour, you likely have a claim against the tour company for your injuries and should contact a lawyer to explore your options.