DPS urges aiga bus owners to get their drivers screened
Program coordinator for the DPS Office of Highway Safety Fred Scanlan says there needs to be a written agreement between commercial vehicles owners and their drivers to ensure that drivers are properly licensed, possess the necessary medical certificate, and are able to carry out the job the right way.
This was one of the topics discussed during a meeting held last Thursday at the Fagatogo Marketplace conference room for commercial vehicle owners and operators to discuss issues including seat belts, emergency exits, liability issuance, bus modifications, and medical certificates.
(See earlier stories for full details of the first two parts of the meeting).
When asked about the validity of US-issued commercial drivers’ licenses in the territory, Scanlan explained that they are recognized and can be used locally; however, they can only honor the off island issued commercial licenses for up to 30 days. Thereafter, an extension will be necessary.
Local businessman Anthony Tuiolosega who attended the meeting suggested that commercial vehicle owners investigate their drivers before hiring them. He said owners should make it a point to look through their driver’s court records to see if he/she has any history of tickets and citations.
“We need safe drivers,” he said. “There are so many near misses on the road and things that ‘could have happened’.”
Scanlan urged aiga bus owners to “go to the extent,” meaning check court clearances and screen their drivers for points and insurance purposes. “We need to look at their behavior as well,” he said. “Bus drivers need to be reminded that there is no need to rush in order to meet their quota. To them, it’s all about the money but we need to think safety first.”
Scanlan said there have been suggestions about allowing buses to pull in and out of certain areas but the problem with that is, there is a lack of bus stops. He noted that some villages only have 5 houses but those same villages have about five bus stop and five pedestrian crossing areas.
“We need to get more funding and work with Public Works on finding ways to get more bus stops,” he said, adding that some of the operators are in a ‘turf war,’ meaning some bus drivers believe they are entitled to pick up and drop off in certain locations.
The commercial vehicle owners who were at the meeting were reminded of their responsibilities, which include having the registration and ownership documents in the vehicles, maintaining the vehicles, posting the proper signs in commercial buses (denoting passenger fare rates/no smoking, etc.), and keeping the right number of passengers on the bus - to avoid overloading.
Thursday’s discussions ended with Scanlan reminding everyone that local asset haulers (container/cargo trucks, etc.) must have liability insurance of $1 million. He said compliance is the key to everything. That means adhering to federal requirements and standards that are in place to ensure road safety for everyone - whether it be a driver, passenger, cyclist, or pedestrian.
Thursday’s meeting was conducted by Scanlan and acting coordinator of the DPS Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) Asulu Faleafine-Solo and Lt. Fau Maiava.
The Department of Public Safety is aiming to make legal everything that has to do with commercial vehicles, specifically aiga buses which, according to Scanlan, can and are being custom built locally without any laws in place specifying measurements and requirements.
“How can we ticket or cite aiga bus drivers and owners for not having seat belts and emergency exits installed when there are no laws requiring them to do so?” Scanlan pointed out. “How can we enforce laws in this area when the buses are arguably illegal to operate and therefore shouldn’t be on the road?”
According to a DPS source, there is nothing under Title 19 and 20 that addresses the issue and that is why they cannot ticket bus owners for defects. Instead, all they can do is cite them for things that have to do with driver’s licenses, registration and insurance.