NTSB chief releases new details of recent coach crashes

Posted on March 30, 2011

In testimony before a U.S. Senate committee hearing on motorcoach safety Wednesday, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman released new factual information uncovered during the investigation of three recent motorcoach accidents that killed a total of 17 people since March 12.

Hersman's remarks at the "Hearing on Ensuring the Safety of our Nation's Motorcoach Passengers" held by the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security (Committee on Energy & Commerce) are below:

"Chairman Lautenberg, Ranking Member Thune, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to address motorcoach safety, which has been spotlighted with recent crashes in New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire. These accidents claimed 17 lives and injured 87 people.

We immediately launched an investigation into the March 12 fatal accident on I-95 in the Bronx.

And, while it is too soon to determine the cause of this accident, which killed 15 people and injured 18 more, here's what I can tell you:

Around 5:30 a.m., a motorcoach was returning to New York from a Connecticut casino, traveling at up to 78 miles per hour, when it departed the travel lanes to the right, crossed over a paved shoulder and struck a roadside barrier.

The bus then traveled nearly 500 feet while rolling over until colliding with a nine-inch diameter highway signpost. The impact drove the pole through the bus's windshield, severing the roof panel from the body for nearly the length of the bus.

We interviewed the bus driver, who said there were no mechanical problems, but reported a truck was involved. We also interviewed a truck driver who turned himself in; he said he witnessed the bus crash in front of him. An NTSB engineer examined the truck and found no evidence to indicate the truck had come in contact with the bus. We also found that a video camera was mounted on the motorcoach windshield. However, it did not record the accident.

With our limited resources in our Highway Office, we are selective about where we launch a full team in order to maximize our impact on highway safety. While we launched a full investigation into the Bronx accident, for the New Jersey and New Hampshire accidents we are conducting a focused investigation of the two motorcoach companies' safety performance.

The New Jersey crash occurred on March 14 when a motorcoach, on a scheduled run from New York City to Philadelphia, departed the roadway and struck a concrete headwall of the New Jersey Turnpike. The bus re-entered and crossed the roadway and came to rest after striking an embankment. The driver and one passenger were killed and 44 people were injured.

On March 22, near Littleton, New Hampshire, the driver of a motorcoach traveling on I-93 from Quebec to Boston reportedly lost control and departed the roadway to the left. The bus went down an embankment and rolled onto its left side. All 25 occupants were injured.

The NTSB has issued many motorcoach safety recommendations based on our accident investigations. Three of those issues are on our Most Wanted List:

First, occupant protection - Including stronger roofs, window emergency exit redesign, and standards for passenger seating compartments.

Second, better Government oversight of operators - To ensure that both the operational status of vehicles and their drivers are safe.

And, finally, implementing advanced vehicle technologies - To prevent accidents from occurring in the first place, including lane-departure warning, electronic stability control and forward-collision warning systems.

The DOT currently has rulemaking underway, and the proposed actions, when implemented, will improve motorcoach safety.

After 10 years on our Most Wanted List, these actions still are not final. There has been no sense of urgency on these recommendations. The names and locations of the accidents change but the solutions are the same.

We share your concerns about the safety of motorcoaches and heavy vehicles operating on our nation's highways. This is why the NTSB is convening a public forum on May 10 and 11 to review motorcoach and truck safety.


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