The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration — a division of the Department of Transportation you may never have heard of — is conducting surprise bus safety inspections with local law enforcement in 13 states today.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released the news Wednesday morning on his Fast Lane blog, but the agency did not reveal the locations. The inspections were being conducted in “popular tourist destinations and ports of entry.”

LaHood said the inspections are part of the agency’s continuing efforts to improve bus safety. The agency inspected 130,000 commercial buses in 2009, he wrote, taking 4.3 percent of bus drivers and 7.6 percent of buses out of service for violations. We’re working on obtaining information on today’s inspection results.

LaHood also announced that FMCSA was revising rules on commercial bus driver testing and licensing to standardize requirements among states.

The news follows the crash of a tour bus in New York City that killed 15 people earlier in March. Eighteen people were also injured when the bus, which was traveling from New York to a Connecticut casino, crashed in the Bronx. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident. The NTSB is also investigating an accident last week where a bus traveling from Montreal to Boston ran off the road in New Hampshire, injuring several people.

Fatalities in motorcoach accidents fell from 70 in 2005 to 46 in 2009, according to DOT.

News of the inspections came as a subpanel of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation prepared to hold a motorcoach safety hearing Wednesday afternoon. Witnesses scheduled to appear include Deborah A.P. Hersman, chairman of the NTSB, and Anne S.Ferro, administrator of the motor carrier agency. Post transportation writer Ashley Halsey III is attending the hearing, which begins at 2:30 p.m., and a teleconference being held by families who have lost loved ones in bus crashes. Check back for updates.

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