Jim has represented dozens of individuals from numerous bus accidents, including the two injured victims from the first USA Holiday bus accident which occured on June 27, 2003. Jim eventually litigated that case and settled the case for a confidential seven figures.
On October 23, the entire nation sadly learned of the horrific crash involving a tour bus that slammed into the rear of a tractor trailer on Interstate 10 in Palm Springs California, killing 13 people, including the driver of the bus, and injuring 31 others. It was the worst bus crash that has occurred in the state in decades. It was also one of at least a half dozen tour bus crashes, involving deaths and injuries, in the state over the past 12 months.
The cause of the Palm Springs crash is still under investigation at the time of this article. It is believed that the driver never braked before impact and that the bus had two tires that were below safety standards. The driver also had a history of driving violations. Drugs and alcohol did not play a role in the crash.
Tour buses are regarded as being a generally safe means of transportation for large groups of people, however accidents are happening and they are happening with increased frequency. Every week there seems to be a national news story concerning the crash of a tour bus in one area of the country or another. Why are tour bus crashes so common and why do they cause so many injuries?
The Causes of Tour Bus Accidents
Tour bus crashes occur for the same reasons other commercial vehicle crashes happen. They are often the result of driver error or carelessness, a poorly maintained vehicle or a combination of both. Weather, road conditions, signage and lighting may also be contributing factors. Studies have shown the following common causes of bus accidents:
· Driver Fatigue – Strict rules that govern the number of hours a driver can spend driving and on duty are established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. It is these regulations that also prohibit bus companies from allowing bus drivers to drive while they are fatigued or likely to be fatigued. Often these regulations are ignored by companies trying to keep up with tour schedules. A recent case involving Greyhound Bus Company showed that a driver suffered from sleep apnea, which caused fatigue, contributing to a serious crash. Greyhound had ignored a recommended sleep test for the driver by a medical examiner. The plaintiffs were awarded $6 million.
· Inadequate Maintenance and Safety Violations – Tragedy could easily be preventable if all buses were maintained properly and adhered to safety regulations. In the company’s effort to save money, and keep the bus on the road, repairs may be put off, worn out tires and brakes may be pushed past their limit. Blowouts, brake and steering issues are frequent contributors to bus crashes. Bus companies are required by federal law to perform frequent inspections and scheduled maintenance.
· Speeding and Aggressive Driving – Failing to obey speed limits, tailgating, weaving in and out of lanes, to meet schedule deadlines are often encouraged by bus companies. Delays in one area may tempt the driver to drive at an excessive speed through another to make up lost time. Fortunately, buses are equipped with black boxes that record the speed of a bus at the time of a crash.
· Distracted Driving – Mobile electronic devices such as cell phones have recently become the latest cause of all motor vehicle crashes. Tour buses are no exception. A new federal law prohibits all commercial drivers from texting behind the wheel.
· Drugs and Alcohol – Bus drivers are required to submit to random drug and alcohol tests by bus companies. These tests should also be administered following an accident. Drivers who test positive should be removed from duty but this is not always the case. Some companies are facing a shortage of drivers and will send a known abuser back on the road without testing.
· Aging Drivers – Per the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) a shortage of commercial vehicle drivers has led to more seniors behind the wheel of tour buses as well as other large commercial vehicles. These drivers either put off retirement or received their training after a career in another field. Many of these drivers are lacking in the stamina required and have diminished reaction times, increasing their chances of an accident significantly.
How Injuries Occur
Tour buses carry large numbers of passengers and most are not equipped with seat belts, despite legislature that was put in place in 2013. That law requires seal belts in all newly built buses, however, it does not require older buses to be retrofitted. The bus in the Palm Springs crash, for example, was built in 1996. Buses of that age do not have the anchor points to safely install restraints. Many of these buses have windows that are not strong enough to resist a rollover and roofs with no crush protective support. Tour buses also operate on highways, at higher speeds than commuter buses, increasing the possibility of injuries in the event of a crash.
The types of injuries associated with bus crashes include but are not limited to facial injuries, traumatic brain injuries, neck and spine injuries and broken bones. If the negligence or carelessness of a tour bus company or a bus driver led to the crash that caused injury or wrongful death, either or both parties could be held legally responsible. These are difficult cases that require the litigation skills of an experienced bus accident law firm.