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Bus driver AND company to blame for fatal crash

A tour bus crash which claimed 15 lives in March 2011 was caused by a sleep-deprived driver and a bus company with inadequate safety systems, the US National Transportation Safety Board has found.

The investigation board agreed that the driver had almost no sleep in the three days leading up to the accident, except for naps he took on the bus while passengers were inside a casino.

The bus was traveling at 78 miles per hour returning to New York, when it ran off the road and crashed into a highway sign. The sign pole cut through the bus, taking off the roof. As well as the 15 deaths, 17 other passengers were injured.

There was no sign that the driver attempted to brake or steer the bus back onto the highway, another indication that he was affected by fatigue.

The driver worked mostly overnight shifts, driving to the casino before midnight and returning in the morning. During the three days prior to the accident, it was found that the driver’s cellphone and rental car were in almost continuous use during the daytime hours when he had said he was sleeping. The accident occurred at 5:38 a.m., during a time of day known as the circadian trough when the human body’s responses to light and darkness create a natural craving for sleep.

Regulators shut down the bus operator after the accident for safety violations – the driver had not turned in any driver’s logs while working for the company, which are required by law. His driving history also included being fired by two previous employers, and 18 suspensions of driving privileges over 20 years.

Prior to the accident, the Defense Department rejected an application by the bus company to transport troops, after a safety inspection. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which had conducted several inspections of the company over a number of years, had approved the carrier for the transportation of passengers.

“Something seems to be badly broken,” NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said, “when one government agency says a company isn’t fit to carry troops, but another says they are fit to carry passengers”.

Read the full story here