ANIMATION: Feds Should Have Shut Down Bus Company Prior to 2011 Fatal Crash

(with Martin DiCaro, Washington, DC, WAMU) Operator fatigue played a key role in a fatal bus crash -- but the NTSB says the driver wasn't the only one asleep at the wheel.

In a newly-released, often scathing report, the National Transportation Safety Board says "lack of adequate oversight" by the federal government was a contributing factor in a bus crash that killed four people in Virginia in 2011.

Sky Express, the bus company, failed to "exercise even minimal oversight of its drivers' rest and sleep activities" and allowed its drivers to behind the wheel "while dangerously fatigued," the NTSB has concluded.

The NTSB, which released the report at a board meeting on Tuesday, also takes the federal government to task for allowing the company to continue operations "despite known safety issues."

At the time of the May 2011 crash, Sky Express was still legally on the road even after being cited for more than 200 violations in the 10 months prior to the crash, according to NTSB records. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was working to shut the company down, but gave it a ten-day extension to fix safety problems.  The crash happened during the extension period.

“Sky Express has no written safety policies including no driver’s handbook, they had no written drug and alcohol policy, they had no seatbelt policy, they had no cell phone policy, they had no in-service training,” said NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt.

The driver, Kin Cheung, faces four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said she felt like it was Groundhog Day at the board meeting in Washington because the agency is once again talking about a bad carrier.

“This accident happened in 2011. We still have not figured out how to get the worst of the worst off the road,” Hersman said. The now-defunct Sky Express had been fined several times over the years -- but she said the $2100 in penalties it incurred did not spur it to safety.

“Clearly the penalty scheme is not a deterrent to putting tired drivers on the road, or putting unsafe vehicles on the road, because they continue to do it year after year after year,” Hersman said.

The NTSB's animation simulation of the crash is below.