The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has ordered a Chester, South Carolina, church to cease all intrastate and interstate commercial transportation after a federal investigation found it to pose an imminent hazard to public safety. The federal order was served on November 7, 2016.
On September 18, 2016, a motor coach commercially operated by Sandy River Baptist Church, USDOT No. 2445628, was transporting a junior college football team from Rock Hill, South Carolina, to Raeford, North Carolina, when a front wheel failed, causing the vehicle to swerve and strike a median guardrail and a concrete bridge support along U.S. 74 near Rockingham, North Carolina. The crash resulted in four fatalities and 39 injuries.
The imminent hazard designation was made following a post-crash investigation conducted by FMCSA safety investigators in coordination with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. On the day of the crash, Sandy River Baptist Church was registered with FMCSA as a “private passenger carrier,” but had failed to comply with driver qualification requirements or to properly monitor its drivers to ensure compliance with maximum hours-of-service requirements prohibiting fatigued operation of commercial motor vehicles, and failed to sufficiently implement a random alcohol and drug testing program for its drivers.
Federal safety regulations require that any entity transporting passengers in interstate commerce for a fee or other compensation must obtain both DOT operating authority registration and DOT safety registration. In applying for and in receiving DOT operating authority registration, a business or a non-profit entity—including church organizations—affirms both the knowledge of and the ability to fully satisfy all vehicle and driver safety regulations that serve to protect drivers, passengers and the motoring public.
In addition to possessing the necessary DOT safety registration, under federal safety regulations, all commercial or “for-hire” passenger carriers operating in interstate commerce must maintain a minimum of $5 million in liability insurance documented on file with FMCSA as a condition of operating authority registration.
Failure to comply with the provisions of a federal imminent hazard out-of-service order may result in action by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for equitable relief, as well as and civil penalties. Civil penalties of up to $25,705 may be assessed for each violation of the order. Knowing and/or willful violation of the order may also result in criminal charges.