The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its final report this week concerning the causes of the fatal bus crash in the Bronx last year that killed 15 passengers and seriously injured 18 others. On March 12, 2011, a charter bus that was returning from the Mohegan Lake Casino in Connecticut to Chinatown on Route 95 in the Bronx lost control, flipped over, struck a guardrail and then a stanchion which held a traffic sign. The impact sheared off the roof of the bus, causing the fatalities and severe injuries to the passengers.
Preliminary investigation determined that the driver, Ophadell Williams, was operating the bus at 78 m.p.h just before the crash. The speed limit in that location of Route 95 is 50 m.p.h. Williams also claimed that before the fatal crash, the bus was “clipped” by a truck, but this could not be confirmed, and there were several reports from other truck drivers who witnessed the early morning crash that Williams appeared to be falling asleep as the bus was veering onto the shoulder of the road.
Williams was indicted on several charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide later in 2011 and is being held on $250,000 bail at Rikers Island. Investigators further learned last year that Williams had a criminal record, his driver’s license had been suspended 8 times, and he had been fired from previous employment with the MTA and another bus company. World Wide Travel, the company that operated the bus, was apparently unaware of Williams’’ background as federal law only requires states to provide charter bus companies with the last three years of a commercial bus driver’s driving history.
The recommendations by the NTSB are as follows:
1. States would now require an onboard safety monitoring system which would permit the charter bus company to detect unsafe driving by its drivers. This would have permitted Williams’ employer to send a warning before the bus left the travel lanes of 95 and struck the guardrail;
2. States would be required to maintain 10 years of a commercial bus driver’s history, rather than the 3 years it presently requires. Had World Wide Travel received more substantial information on Mr. Williams’ criminal and employment background, it seems clear he would not have been permitted to operate any buses at any time;
3. That the National Highway Traffic Safety Board develop equipment which would limit the top speed that buses, motor coaches and trucks can travel at—Williams was operating the bus at 78 m.p.h. and investigation revealed that even at impact, the bus was traveling at 64 m.p.h.;
4. That safety equipment protocols for charter buses such as seat belts and shoulder harnesses be reassessed. Presently, this equipment is not federally mandated for bus passengers, (only drivers) but clearly some of the passengers who were either killed or seriously injured would have had a much better chance of surviving or being less seriously injured if they weren’t thrown from their seats;
5. A directive that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials work on developing high performance barriers on new construction and rehabilitation projects to improve guardrails. The barrier surrounding the stanchion in this crash was constructed to prevent only cars, and not commercial vehicles, from striking the support post.
As stated by the chairwoman of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman: “Together, fatigue and speed are an especially lethal combination…[this was] a deadly crash that did not have to happen.”