National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah Hersman hammered both the Sky Express bus operator and federal regulators as she delivered conclusions about the fatal rollover crash on I-95 in Virginia's Caroline County last year.
As reported, the fatigued driver fell asleep and drove off the road during the overnight trip that was supposed to carry 58 passengers from Greensboro, N.C. to New York City.
Four passengers died, crushed when the bus roof collapsed.
"On the morning of May 31, it wasn't just the bus driver asleep at the wheel," said Hersman. She slammed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the government agency tasked with the oversight of passenger bus companies.
In the two years before the crash, FMCSA had given Sky Express two unsatisfactory ratings, including one shortly before the accident, but operation was never halted.
"The crash we are here to discuss today should have never happened," said Hersman. "Given all those reviews, why was Sky Express still operating?" Later Hersman added, "Unfortunately, our investigators see the tragic consequences of taking too little action, too late and ultimately, it is the traveling public who pays the price."
The NTSB investigators found the Sky Express driver had slept just 6.5 hours in the day before the crash. They will consider new rules to tighten guidelines on "hours of service" and may recommend limiting hours on overnight trips when fatigue naturally sets in.
The NTSB investigators also found the four passenger who were killed, died when they were crushed after the bus roof caved in. They created a simulation video that revealed seatbelts would have likely saved lives. They also say new rules may be needed to require a stronger roof on buses.