December 9, 2009

NTSB: Driver fatigued in fatal coach overturn

On Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the January 2008 fatal crash of a motorcoach near Victoria, Texas, was caused by the driver's loss of control of the vehicle after he fell asleep at the wheel.

 

One passenger was fatally injured, 17 passengers sustained major injuries, and the driver and 29 passengers received minor injuries. The NTSB found that passengers were injured by partial ejections from the motorcoach and by striking objects and other passengers inside the motorcoach when it overturned.

 

On the morning of Jan. 2, 2008, a 2005 Volvo motorcoach operated by Capricorn Bus Lines Inc., under International Charter Services Inc.'s operating authority, was traveling northbound on U.S. Highway 59 near Victoria, Texas. The motorcoach, en route from Monterrey, Mexico, to Houston, was carrying 47 passengers. Approximately five miles south of Victoria, the driver fell asleep, partially ran off the road, and then, after overcorrecting, lost control of the motorcoach which overturned on its right side. Within five minutes, a northbound pickup truck struck the underside of the motorcoach.

 

Major safety issues identified by this accident investigation focused on driver fatigue; lack of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) oversight of passenger motor carriers in the areas of operating authority, leasing agreements, scope of operating authority violations, safety rating methodology and the New Entrant Safety Assurance Program; and registration and use of non-Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS)-compliant, passenger-carrying vehicles in commercial motor carrier operations in the U.S.

 

"When we looked at the specific chain of events that led to this tragic accident, we also found numerous holes in the federal regulatory environment that allows a non-compliant motorcoach to be registered and operated on U.S. roadways," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "The traveling public should expect that any motorcoach they ride complies with all of the safety criteria imposed on every other commercial passenger vehicle within our borders."

 

As a result of its investigation, the NTSB issued 19 safety recommendations: one to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), 11 to the FMCSA, two to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP); and one each to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), and the International Registration Plan (IRP). The report also reclassifies one previously issued recommendation to the FMCSA and also reiterates two previously issued recommendations to the FMCSA.

 

Among the recommendations, the NTSB urges NHTSA and FMCSA to work in conjunction with CBP and implement a process to detect motor carriers operating motorcoaches or other passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicles that do not meet U.S. safety standards. Once detected, these non-compliant vehicles should be placed out of service.

 

In addition, the NTSB urges the FMCSA to deny or revoke operating authority for commercial interstate motor carriers who fail to disclose any prior operating relationship with another motor carrier, prior operations as another motor carrier, or previously holding a different US DOT number.

 

A synopsis of the accident investigation report can be found on the Board Meetings page of the NTSB's Website, http://www.ntsb.gov/events/Boardmeeting.htm. The complete report will be available on the Website in several weeks.

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