The driver of a tour bus that skidded off an Oregon highway December 30, killing nine passengers and injuring 39 others, was driving too fast at the time of the crash, the U.S. Department of Transportation said in a January 17 order.
A number of passengers who survived the crash told investigators that driver Haeng Kyu “James” Hwang of British Columbia, Canada, was driving too fast and that he had been asked several times by those aboard to slow down.
“You were driving at speeds too fast for conditions and driving in a manner unsafe to existing road conditions,” the Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said in its order to stop Mr. Hwang from driving any commercial vehicles in the U.S.
The order deemed Mr. Hwang an “imminent threat” to public safety, saying his driving demonstrated a “careless or reckless disregard for the safety of yourself, your passengers and the general public.”
The bus, operated by Mi Joo Tour & Travel of Vancouver, Canada, was on the final leg of a nine-day tour of the western U.S. when it skidded through a guardrail on Interstate 84 in Eastern Oregon and tumbled 100 feet down an embankment. During the tour, Mr. Hwang had been serving as both bus driver and tour guide, working 92 hours per week, well over the 70-hour-per-week hours of service (HOS) rule for commercial bus drivers mandated by the FMCSA.
Earlier this month, the FMCSA banned Mi Joo Tour & Travel from operating in the U.S., saying the company “established a pattern and practice of scheduling and dispatching drivers without regard to hours of service.” In other words, the company didn’t require its drivers to adhere to U.S. laws mandating how many hours bus drivers could safely work – measures that are designed to reduce driver fatigue.
The DOT order says both drivers may be subject to civil and criminal penalties for violating federal regulations, but a department spokesman would not say whether there are plans to file charges against the drivers.
The FMCSA warned Mr. Hwang that any willful violations of its order could result in criminal fines up to $25,000 and up to one year in prison.