Do You Want Toothpicks Or Steel Protecting You In A Bus Crash?
The thin metal siding on some of the most popular bus models used for tours, charters, airport shuttles, and carrying children to camp as well as to school events hides a deadly secret that bus companies do not want passengers to know about.
A flimsy metal structure no stronger that cheap lawn furniture, strips of thin wood paneling similar to that used in mobile homes, and brittle foam are all that stand between passengers and potential death in a bus accident.
The shocking revelations came to light in the wake of a deadly bus crash in which a truck side-swiped a bus carrying college athletes on September 26, 2014, as they were returning to their campus in Gainesville, Texas on Interstate 35.
Four women in the prime of their life would undoubtedly be on the softball diamond this Spring with their North Central Texas College teammates, if the bus had provided basic passenger protection needed to survive a bus accident.
Keith Pelton, the father of 20-year old Jaiden Pelton who was in the bus accident pointed to where his daughter was ejected out the side of the bus in an interview with reporter James Rose of Fox 4 KDFW News in Dallas. “We ride in vehicles everyday but you never think about how something is built. It’s wood, plywood, and foam. What little metal there is, is lawn chair metal. It’s terrible. It’s unsafe. You wouldn’t put your dog in it. A lot of small schools, this is what they have. Who says tomorrow it won’t happen to another small school. These schools need to rethink what they are doing as far as their travel program. What they put their children in. Had I known what I know now, my daughter would have never ridden in this bus.”
Nine years before this bus was built, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in this Bus Crashworthiness Issues report called for buses to have roof strength standards and a maximum survival space for all seating positions.
Tragically, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has twiddled its thumbs for 15 years in failing to adopt the NTSB safety recommendations.
Meanwhile hundreds of buses like this one continue to roll off the assembly line and down our nation’s highways carrying unsuspecting passengers.
Shame On NHTSA
Bus accidents in which a motorcoach either rolls over or runs off the road hitting an object account for about 74 percent of bus fatalities according NHTSA’s own Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The ejection of bus passengers in a rollover accident caused 61% of bus accident deaths (171 total fatalities) in the ten year period between 2001-2010. And who are the casualties? Most of them are children and senior citizens.
In the wake of numerous deadly bus accidents in which passengers were ejected, NHTSA has even failed to conduct research on the benefits for requiring advanced window glass to prevent passengers from being ejected.
The next time you step aboard a casino bus, tour bus, or shuttle bus think about this. No vehicle crashworthiness standards exist for medium-size buses. Crashworthiness is the capability of a vehicle, in this case a bus, to protect its passengers and driver from crash forces. A vehicle’s structure should be designed to maintain a survivable space around the passengers similar to the way that a roll bar cage protects a NASCAR Driver. In fact, many car makers design their vehicles with vehicle crashworthiness standards in mind and go beyond the minimum government standards.
But in the case of medium size buses there’s not even a minimum roof or sidewall strength requirement to ensure that the bus will maintain survival space during a side-impact or T-bone collision or in a rollover accident. NTSB investigators found that the sidewall joints on the bus in question failed, exposing the passengers to greater risk of injury and ejection.
Bus manufacturers have neglected to raise the bar for crashworthiness safety standards, opting instead for cheap structural materials that make them more money.
Adding insult to injury, NHTSA does not require buses that weigh under 26,001 pounds to meet the occupant protection standards that are in effect for large motorcoach buses.
Medium size buses are much more vulnerable in side impact collisions because passengers sit closer to the ground. In comparison, motorcoach passengers usually sit above the luggage compartment providing greater protection.
Why Has NHTSA Resisted Bus Standards For 30-Years?
I believe the manufacturers of medium size buses and the host of companies who buy those buses use their political influence to make federal regulators paper tigers.
In the wake of 36 bus accident investigations, the Chairman of the NTSB published an Op-Ed on Motorcoach Safety six years ago expressing frustration that poor occupant protection in a bus accidents was a senseless tragedy on the nation’s roadways. The Chairman stated:
The lack of crashworthiness significantly contributes to the severity of bus accidents. For decades, we have called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop standards to increase window glazing and roof strength, improve seating compartments to keep passengers protected and in their seats…
Every parent needs to heed this NTSB warning that, “because of current lack of side-impact protection standards for medium-sized buses, occupants are at risk of injury and ejection during side-impact crashes.”
Misty Woodlee, the mother of 18 year old Katelynn who was also killed in the bus accident , told Fox 4 News she was shocked, “when we buy cars we would never buy anything made out of plywood and foam like a cheap cooler from the convenience store. We would never do that. That’s not safe. Had we known, we would never have put our daughters in something like this. Hopefully no one else will and loose their child.”
In my vehicle crashworthiness practice as a bus accident lawyer, I have witnessed too many grieving parents who have lost a child or have a child suffering from a traumatic brain injury or a spinal cord injury because of weak bus safety standards.
What do I do as a parent? My son plays on a traveling baseball team. We never let him set foot on one of these buses. Doing so risks putting one foot in the grave.
So many of the times when we put our children on the bus to go to school or ourselves when we ride a bus from the airport to the rent-a-car company or we send, our high school children on a field trip or on an athletic event or college athletes ride on a bus, they have no idea what the safety systems of that bus are like.
Well I am here today to tell you that school buses, motor coaches and buses in general have inherent design and manufacturing flaws. I am sitting in front of a bus that was involved in a bus accident where a another vehicle side swiped that vehicle and then this bus rolled over one-quarter turn, now what is unique about this particular bus is, it is designed out of a material that is commonly used to build lawn furniture.
One-and-a-half inch square tubing, now square tubing by large is fine if you want to put a fence around your vegetable garden, it is fine if you want to have a go kart it is fine if you want to use thick steel gauge material so that you can design a race car but you do not use flimsy one-and-a-half inch material for safety.
Now another thing I want to look at here, this is another part of the stuff of the structural integrity of buses, this foam.
Now, this is another part of the structural integrity that we see on buses. I don’t know about you, I call this kindling. I do not call this structural integrity material. Now what is more important than that, than the design of these buses is the manufacturing of the buses. If you are going to use cheap flimsy material then you might as well at least use good welding and have good welding protocols in place.
However, this particular bus they missed most of the weld joints. When they did actually provide a weld, they only hit on one corner instead of on four and when you take flimsy material and you have bad or poor quality welds, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Now we need to add one more ingredient to our defective and unreasonably dangerous bus here and that is the lack of testing. This particular bus, the bus manufacturer conducted no crash tests of any kind, no frontal impact crash tests, no side impact crash tests and no rollover testing. Unlike the vehicle manufacturers that routinely conduct real-world crash tests in the front, in the side, in the rear, on top. They drop vehicles, they roll over vehicles, they use pendulums, and the bus manufacturers do nothing.
Now why is that? Because the bus manufacturers say we are not required by law to do that? Well, I have got to tell you most of the manufacturer of most of the vehicle industry are not required to do what they do, but they do it anyway because they know that lives are at risk.
So if you are going to have precious cargo in your buses you should do everything humanly possible, from an engineering standpoint ,from a design standpoint, from a manufacturing standpoint, and from a testing standpoint. Because when you do not engineer and when you do not test, people die and people did die in this particular bus crash.
In fact four softball players perished and instead of playing softball this spring, their parents are mourning their loss.