The Ministry of Transport on Thursday said its special probe into the operator of a bus that crashed in Gunma Prefecture last Sunday morning, killing seven passengers, has revealed multiple breaches of laws and regulations.
The investigation followed comments by driver Kazan Kono, 43, indicating that he had dozed off at the wheel while taking a bus full of tourists from Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, to Tokyo Disneyland at 4:40 a.m. on the Kanetsu Expressway in Fujioka, Gunma Prefecture.
Kono was arrested on Tuesday and sent to prosecutors on Thursday.
The ministry report says the bus operator Rikuentai, which is based in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture, has a history of poor management at the company, TBS reported Thursday.
The investigation was intended to establish whether the company's management was enforcing standard safety protocols such as assigning relief drivers and ensuring that drivers did not exceed regulation driving times and distances. The ministry said that Rikuentai failed to keep driver's manuals, which contain route and safety information, and neglected to carry out driver health confirmations before shifts began.
Ministry officials said the investigation, which will include searches of the company president's offices and home, will continue in an attempt to ascertain whether the company's management caused the driver to be overworked, TBS reported.
Under ministry safety rules, bus drivers must spend no more than nine hours per day at the wheel on average over a two-day period. Management is also obliged to ensure that they do not exceed four hours of continuous driving.
However, Rikuentai said that a relief driver is only necessary if the journey is over 670 kilometers. The stated distance of the trip to Tokyo Disneyland was 540 kilometers.
A panel will be established this month to update guidelines that apply to tour bus operators, including those pertaining to duration and distance of drivers' shifts, the ministry said. Most bus drivers say that even 540 kilometers is too far to go without a relief driver, TBS reported.
Meanwhile, the Japan Tourism Agency, part of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, plans to conduct on-the-spot inspections of about 50 travel companies and about 200 chartered bus operators nationwide to check for other regulation breaches.© Japan Today