Articles Posted in Bus accidents

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Today a tour bus carrying the Morehouse College band to a football game in Albany hydroplaned, crashed and overturned on I-75 in Henry County, south of Atlanta.

The incident immediately brought to mind the crash of a tour bus carrying the Bluffton University baseball team as it passed through Atlanta on I-75 in 2007, and the crash of a University of West Georgia cheerleader van on I-20 in 1997. I was part of the joint prosecution group in both of those cases.

Several Morehouse band members were taken by ambulance to area hospitals, while others were taken by a transfer bus to be checked out fro injuries.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, 49 CFR §392.14 requires:

Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by . . . rain . . . adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist.

The Commercial Drivers License Manual directs that speed should be lowered one-third below the posted speed limit in rainy conditions.

Chances are the bus has a data recorder to document the speed before the bus hydroplaned. My educated hunch is that the speed had not been reduced by one-third.
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Handling bus and truck liability cases in my Atlanta law practice, I have seen way too many kids killed or seriously injured in bus accidents. Recently I had represented several of the young men who were on the Bluffton University baseball team bus that crashed in Atlanta.

Yesterday in Atlanta, a school bus driver lost track of a kindergarten student who had exited the bus, and ran over the child. According to an article by Alexis Stevens in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Usher Elementary 5-year-old pupil was one of six kids to get off at the bus stop, located near the intersection of Vanderbilt Court and Hobart Drive, just north of I-20.

The bus driver has been charged with second degree vehicular homicide and failure to use due regard for school bus driver safety procedure, according to the Atlanta Police Department.

While Georgia law provides broad immunity to public school systems, there is liability to the extent of insurance coverage for negligence in operation of school buses. The immunity issues do not apply to privately operated school buses.
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It was in March 2007 that a tour bus carrying the Bluffton University baseball team crashed in Atlanta. Without seatbelts required in Europe and Austrailia, but not in the US, there were unnecessary deaths. Working on that case was an education.

Now the National Transportation Safety Board has issued a report hammering the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failure to implement recommendations to require seatbelts and stronger roofs and windows on buses. The NTSB has been prodding NHTSA to enact those suggestions for a decade.

According to an article by Sholln Freeman in the Washington Post, the NTSB was also critical of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for lax driver medical certification procedures. Fortunately, however, the FMCSA has issued a new rule to tighten medical certification rules going forward. It’s a step in the right direction.

However, no apparent progress has been made on bringing bus safety standards up to world standards. Buses manufactured in Europe and sold in the US come without seatbelts as standard equipment. The same bus sold in Turkey, for example, has seatbelts.
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This morning a MARTA bus rolled over on the ramp from I-285 to I-20 eastbound. It is a tight curving ramp with signs warning everyone to slow down and pictogram signs warning large vehicles the risk of rollover. Frankly, a truck or bus simply won’t roll over if the driver is adequately screened and trained.

Recently we handled a case in which a cement mixer truck rolled over in an intersection. The driver said he was going 25 MPH when he made the turn. Then I showed him an industry standard training video that instructs drivers that a cement mixer truck will roll over at 16 MPH in a level 90 degree turn. He then said that if he had been trained on that, the accident would not have happened.

Right now I’m handling a case in which a MARTA “short bus” for the handicapped slammed into the rear of a car stopped at a red light. A Ph.D. psychologist who was an eyewitness immediately called MARTA with an account of the MARTA driver acting like she was drunk. It turns out that the MARTA driver had a long criminal history including felony drug offenses, had not long before applying to MARTA completed a lengthy residential drug rehab program as a condition of criminal sentencing, was off her long-term psychiatric medications, and had an open bench warrant in Michigan for probation violation. MARTA did not both to check with any prior employers, did not follow its own rules to get a 7-year driving history, and did not check criminal history in the state from which she had just moved. The MARTA trainer noted, just about a month before this crash, that she was not ready and needed retraining.

After the psychologist eyewitness described her impaired manner, MARTA chose not to have a post-accident drug test.

So when I saw the story this morning about a MARTA bus rolling over on a freeway ramp, it all fit in context.
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In March 2007, a tour bus carrying the Bluffton University baseball team from Ohio to Florida mistakenly took the Northside Drive exit from the left HOV lane on I-75 in Atlanta and crashed off a bridge at the top of the ramp. The National Transportation Safety Board issued a report that blamed the tragedy on bad signs and driver error. I was in the team of lawyers representing the victims of that tragedy.

Problems with Georgia DOT’s signage at the Northside Drive exit included:

* The design of traffic signs for this exit was not prepared in substantial compliance with generally accepted engineering or design standards in effect at the time it was designed prior to the 1996 Olympics.

* An advanced guide sign placed on the Howell Mill Road overpass, which precedes the Left Exit at Northside Drive, graphically indicated the approach of the exit to I-85 northbound, which is after the Left Exit when heading southbound.

* Advanced guide signs are supposed to be used to describe the immediate next exit, not an exit that is located after the next exit.

* Because the advanced guide sign attached to the Howell Mill Road overpass did not describe the immediate next exit, which was the Left Exit, but rather described the exit after that, which was the I-85 northbound exit, that sign was not prepared in substantial compliance with generally accepted engineering or design standards.

Yesterday, Jeffrey Scott of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that last week two other bus driver mistook the same HOV exit ramp for a through lane, and narrowly averted repeating the Bluffton bus tragedy on the same spot.

Some of the changes in signage recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board last summer are still not in place, over two years after the Bluffton crash. A DOT spokesman said the footings for new signs had just been placed.

I happened to drive by that location this morning before work. A strip of reflective material and a reflective sign with arrows pointing right and left have been added at the point where the Bluffton team bus crashed off the bridge to the expressway below.

Click here for a video of the approach to this location.
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Roughly one third of Division I NCAA university sports programs have used charter buses from companies with deficient safety records, according to a report by Paula Lavigne of ESPN.

The number of smaller college and high school teams traveling in buses with safety problems is undoubtedly much higher.

Recently, I’ve been part of the team of lawyers representing members of the Bluffton University baseball team in injury and death claims arising from the crash of their charter bus in Atlanta in March 2007. It’s been a sobering experience, especially when I consider the fact that both of my children travel in team buses about which I know little. And several years ago, I was part of a similar team of lawyers who worked together on a crash of a van carrying cheerleaders from the University of West Georgia.

Some of the issues regarding charter bus safety mentioned in the ESPN feature, or seen in the Bluffton case, include:

– Lack of seatbelts and safety glass in side windows to restrain passenger movement in a crash. Seatbelts are generally seen in tour buses in Europe and Austrailia, but because they are not required by the government in the US, they are not standard equipment here. The Bluffton crash has added impetus to a movement to require seatbelts in tour buses in the US.

– Safety ratings. Colleges should check the Safestat scores of bus companies before entrusting our kids to them.

– Driver fatigue, which is often due to driving over the legal hours.

– Tire underinflation or defects, which leads to blowouts and loss of control. (In the West Georgia case, a defective tire delaminated at high speed with a driver who was untrained and inexperienced in operating that type of vehicle.)

– Use of untrained drivers in college owned passenger vans.

For more information, see the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Adminisation’s guide to chartering buses for student transportation.
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We have seen years of criticism of the lack of seat belts and inadequate passenger protection on school buses and other buses. In the next few days, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) is expected to issue a final rule that will require seatbelts for small school buses but only recommends seatbelts for larger school buses. Larger buses will be required to increase the seat back height four inches, at somewhat less cost than adding seat belts.

The rule also includes preemption language that seeks to give blanket immunity to the industry that manufactures buses and their parts. The language would make it much more difficult to recover damages children seriously injured or killed in school bus accidents.

This is just one of numerous regulations that the outgoing administration is seeking to finalize before inauguration day on January 20th, while departing officials seek to feather their nests for new jobs in the industries they have been regulating. Finalizing a regulation before the change of administrations would make it much more difficult for the new administration to change the regulation.
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A Florida truck driver admitted that he was on his cell phone yesterday when he slammed into a school bus, killing a 13-year-old student. According to reports, the school bus, which had stopped to let children off , had its warning lights on and stop signs out. The truck failed to stop for it and rammed the school bus forward 294 feet.

See our recent posts on cell phone distractions and the absence of seat belts on busses.
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On March 2, 2007, a tour bus carrying the baseball team from Bluffton University in Ohio crashed on an Atlanta freeway. I’ve been one of the team of attorneys in Ohio and Georgia working on representation of the team members.

One of the issues raised has been the lack of seat belts on buses in the United States.Some of the passengers were killed or seriously injured when ejected from the bus. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that contributing to the severity of the accident was “the motorcoach’s lack of an adequate occupant protection system.” Similar tragedies have occurred elsewhere around the country in recent years.

While the same bus purchased almost anywhere else in the world would have belts in all passenger seats, they are not typically found on buses in the U.S. because our federal regulations do not require them.

In 1968 when the National Transportation Safety Board first recommended that seat belts be required on all buses. Decades of deaths – many occur as passengers are tossed about and ejected from buses have led to decades of study and discussion, but no law.

In the wake of this tragedy in Georgia, as well as similar incidents in Texas, legislation was introduced in Congress to require passenger seat belts in tour buses in the United States. Last winter, U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced a bill to give safety proponents just what they wanted – a congressional end-run around the long-stalled seat-belt debate. They co-authored a bill calling for seat belts for passengers on new and old charter buses, and safety glass and stronger roofs on new buses. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia introduced similar legislation in the House that would require seat belts, not just more studies.

However, as reported in an excellent article by Michael Lindenberger in the The Dallas Morning News, the chances of passage this year are fading due to strong opposition from the powerful lobby for bus operators. Lindenberger’s article reports:

Ms. Hutchison and Mr. Brown submitted their bill Nov. 8. On Nov. 20, a political action committee for the American Bus Association sent a check for $1,000 to U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa. By early December, Mr. Shuster had his rival Bluffton University Motorcoach Safety Act before a House committee. He received another $1,000 early this year from the same PAC, and $1,000 more in June from the United Motorcoach Association.

“We welcome the Shuster bill because it calls for the most sweeping research and data collection in motor coach industry history,” American Bus Association president and CEO Peter J. Pantuso said in a statement issued shortly after it was introduced.

The article goes on to explain at length the backroom machinations by which the bus industry lobbyists have continued to manipulate the process forty years after the NTSB first recommended requiring passenger seat belts on buses.

As I deal with evidence of the carnage in the Bluffton bus crash case, where bright young college athletes died horrific deaths that would have been prevented by something as simple as a seat belt and safety glass on the side windows to prevent them from being ejected from the bus, I marvel at the determination of the industry to block even the simplest safety measures for four decades.
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