Charter bus, tour firms to be audited

Gunma crash that killed seven sparks probe into operations

Kyodo

The transport ministry will audit about 200 chartered bus operators nationwide in relation to overworked drivers and other possible breaches after a weekend bus accident in Gunma Prefecture that killed seven passengers, ministry officials said Wednesday.

The Japan Tourism Agency, an arm of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, also plans to conduct on-the-spot inspections of about 50 travel companies that consign bus tours to such operators.

The decisions precede plans by the ministry to set up an expert panel this month to review regulations covering tour bus operations, including the duration and distance for continuous driving, the officials said.

Kazan Kono, 43, who had been hospitalized Sunday the crash, has been arrested on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in death and injury in connection with the 4:40 a.m. accident on the Kanetsu Expressway in Fujioka, Gunma Prefecture.

Kono has effectively owned up to the negligence, telling investigators he had dozed off at the time of the crash due to fatigue. There were no indications that he had applied the brakes, police said.

There was no backup driver aboard the overnight bus bound for Tokyo Disneyland, according to the tour operator.

In connection with the deadly accident, the ministry’s Kanto District Transport Bureau conducted another special audit Wednesday of a chartered bus operator in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture, that also employed the driver.

Of the roughly 4,000 chartered bus operators in the country, about 200 provide long-distance services involving expressways, according to the ministry.

The upcoming audit will delve into whether management at such firms has assigned backup drivers and kept limits on driving time and distance, the officials said. Under ministry rules, bus drivers’ driving time must be nine hours or less per day on average over a two-day period. They are also barred from driving longer than four hours continuously. The one-day distance limit is 670 km