FMCSA issues stop order for Georgia-based bus company

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Decatur, GA-based bus company has been ordered to stop its passenger service after federal investigators found extensive safety violations, including driver fatigue, forged logs, lack of maintenance and substance abuse and drug testing. 

The Feb. 15 imminent hazard operations out-of-service order issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration names Top Class Bus Co. and Colleen James, who is listed as the company’s registered agent. 

The order states that the company failed to monitor and ensure that drivers comply with hours-of-service requirements, records of duty status requirements, driver qualification requirements, and driver controlled substances and alcohol use and testing requirements, “posing an ongoing and continuing imminent hazard.”

Further violations cited in the order include permitting drivers to falsify records of duty status in an attempt to conceal hours-of-service violations for drivers transporting passengers between Atlanta and New York City. The company was also flagged for failure to repair vehicle deficiencies identified by its drivers on required daily inspection reports, and for failing to establish pre-employment drug screenings and implement a controlled substance and alcohol use testing program for its drivers.

The violations were discovered during an expedited mandatory investigation that began Feb. 11, following a passenger complaint against Top Class. The complaint alleged that a company driver “was falling asleep repeatedly on the bus and the passengers had to yell to wake him up." According to the complaint, the driver "kept driving off the highway on the shoulder." During this trip, the driver drove for 17 straight hours in violation of the FMCSA hours-of-service limits.

The investigation also found that Top Class lacks a vehicle maintenance program. According to the report, one of the carrier’s fleet vehicles was towed while en route to New York City when “it developed major mechanical violations resulting from broken engine harnesses that caused an unsecured engine to leak oil onto electronic engine control management safety chips.” The vehicle’s wiring system, controlling the external lights and turn signals, was also inoperable.

Top Class was registered with the state of Georgia on March 2, 2011. The company’s filings with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office list no officers. A phone message was left Tuesday for Jones or another company spokesperson wishing to comment on the order. 

In order to return to compliance with federal regulations, Top Class must demonstrate compliance in the areas of driver hours of service, drug testing, maintenance, and training. 

Failure to comply with the order may subject Top Class to civil penalties up to $25,000. If the violations are determined to be willful, the company could be further subjected to criminal fines of up to $25,000 and a maximum one-year prison term.

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