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Making truck & bus crashes more survivable & less fatal

In our last post, we noted that the causes of truck accidents are usually fairly easy to determine. Fatigued driving, malfunctioning vehicles and driver distraction are often apparent upon a cursory investigation. Unfortunately, however, the causes of some crashes can never be determined.

This may be the case with a devastating truck-bus crash in California last year. In April 2014, a motor coach full of high school students was traveling north on the interstate in order to attend a college orientation. For reasons that remain a mystery, a FedEx tractor-trailer heading south veered across the 15-foot median and struck the bus head-on. Both the bus and truck drivers were killed, as were five students and three others. Another 39 people suffered injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board was tasked with investigating the accident. After a 15-month inquiry, the NTSB recently said that it cannot determine what caused the FedEx driver to veer so wildly out of his lane and into oncoming traffic. The agency did, however, determine that lives could have been saved and injuries reduced if certain safety standards had been in place.

The NTSB makes safety and regulation recommendations based on the results of accident investigations, but it has no regulatory authority of its own. In the wake of the crash, the agency reiterated recommendations it has made in the past. Those recommendations were not heeded and reportedly contributed to the high number of deaths and injuries in this crash.

The board noted that:

  • The bus interior suffered from outdated flammability requirements, meaning that interior fires spread more quickly and gave passengers less time to escape
  • The bus emergency exits were inadequate and poorly marked, making it much harder for passengers to evacuate
  • Motor coach passengers should have been given pre-trip safety briefings similar to those given on flights
  • All buses and trucks should be equipped with event data recorders ("black boxes") that help investigators piece together the final moments before a crash

We may never know what caused this truck accident, but we do know that it was far deadlier than it needed to be. It has been said that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Hopefully, safety regulators and legislators will begin to heed the recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board.

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