In the wake of a fiery 2014 bus crash that killed 10 people, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended several safety improvements designed to increase passenger safety and facilitate investigations into commercial vehicle crashes. The April 10, 2014, crash between a FedEx Freight, Inc., tractor trailer, a Nissan Altima and a Setra motorcoach killed the truck and bus driver as well as eight bus passengers. The car’s two occupants and 37 bus passengers were also injured. The crash resulted in several personal injury lawsuits and wrongful death lawsuits against FedEx.
“A Horrific Collision … With Very High Temperatures”
On the morning of April 10, 2014, two buses filled with Los Angeles-area high school students and their chaperones set out on a 12-hour drive. Their destination: Humboldt State University. The student – many of whom hoped to be the first in their families to attend college – were heading to the northern California school on a two-day recruiting visit.
As the bus headed northbound on California’s Interstate 5 the unthinkable happened. At about 5:40 that evening, a Volvo truck traveling pulling two 28-foot FedEx trailers left the southbound lanes, crossed the median, entered the northbound lanes and hit a Nissan Altima. The Altima spun counterclockwise, and either the car, the truck or both vehicles struck the motorcoach carrying the students.
A fire erupted, consuming both the truck and the motorcoach, which was carrying the driver, three chaperones and 43 students. Many students were able to jump from the bus’s windows, but the bus driver, the three chaperones and five students perished in the fire. The FedEx truck’s driver also died.
“This was a horrific collision,” Glenn County (Calif.) Sheriff and Coroner Larry Jones told the New York Times. Jones reported that the fire began almost immediately and burned “with very high temperatures.”
NTSB Report & Safety Recommendations
As is protocol, the National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation to help determine the probable cause of the accident, and to recommend safety improvements.
“The investigation brought to light the difficulty of getting out of a burning motorcoach,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “It is unacceptable for anyone who survives a crash to perish in a post-crash fire because the exits were too hard to find or too difficult to use.”
The Board’s recommendations called for improved flammability requirements in motorcoaches. Currently, flammability is tested using small-scale fires such as burning matches or cigarettes. However, most bus fires typically involve fires that burn on a much larger scale.
The NTSB investigation determined that the bus driver had failed to provide a safety briefing at the start of the trip, and passengers had trouble locating and opening the emergency exits. Two of the deaths occurred because passengers succumbed to smoke asphyxiation before reaching the exits. The Board also noted that windows which function as emergency exits lack mechanisms to remain open, and that passengers must jump from a height of more than seven feet when exiting via the window. The NTSB recommended better emergency lighting and signage, mechanisms that would keep emergency exits open once they’ve been activated, and secondary emergency exit which are closer to the ground.
Ultimately, the NTSB was unable to determine a cause of the accident, and neither the bus nor the truck had black-box event data recorders.
“With access to event data recorders, we might have been able to determine why the truck crossed the median, which could have enabled us to make recommendations to prevent it from happening again,” Hart said. “Much of the reason that aviation is so safe today is that we have required such recorders for decades so that we can learn the lessons of accidents. But they are still not required in commercial trucks or motorcoaches despite more than a decade of recommendations by the NTSB.”
Chicago Personal Injury Lawyers for Truck and Bus Accident Victims
As this accident demonstrates, motor vehicle accidents involving buses and commercial trucks can seriously injure and kill scores of people – including passengers who played no role in causing the accident. If you or a loved one has been hurt or killed in a truck accident or bus accident, contact the Chicago injury attorneys at Cogan & Power, P.C., at (312) 477-2500.
Our personal injury lawyers and wrongful death lawyers have experience counseling victims of these catastrophic accidents and helping them obtain the compensation they deserve. We have represented a number of bus and trucking accident victims, and understand the rules and regulations covering the commercial motor vehicle industry.