Bronx Bush Crash Caused by Tired Driver, Board Says

A New York City bus crash that killed
15 people last year was probably caused by driver fatigue, the
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said, recommending
steps to limit bus speeds and strengthen company oversight.

The safety board’s probe focused on the driver, Ophadell
Williams, who lost control of a motorcoach on its way back to
Manhattan’s Chinatown from the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut
early on March 12, 2011. The bus flipped on I-95 just inside the
Bronx and hit a sign post, shearing off the roof.

“A safe and well-rested driver is a key safety factor and
can be, as we have seen too many times, the crucial difference
between an uneventful trip and a tragic one,” NTSB Chairman
Deborah Hersman said today in Washington.

The Bronx crash was one of three fatal accidents in a span
of 11 weeks on the East Coast last year that focused regulatory
attention on bus safety. On May 31, the Transportation
Department shut down 26 bus companies following a yearlong
investigation into companies operating to and from Chinatown
neighborhoods in New York and other cities.

The NTSB recommended today that the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration propose rules requiring devices to
limit speed in buses. Bus companies are hindered by federal
rules limiting histories of violations to three years prior to
hiring, and records should go back 10 years, the board said.

License Suspensions

Williams, who had 18 driver’s license suspensions on his
record, was charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent
homicide after the accident. The NTSB found his bus was
traveling 78 miles per hour in a 50 mph zone in the minute
before the accident.

If he had been going slower, Williams may have been able to
maintain control and avoid the rollover, the board said.

Passengers reported that Williams hit rumble strips on the
sides of the highway at several points during the overnight trip
back to New York. The bus swerved as Williams lost control soon
after crossing the city line from Westchester County, hitting a
guard rail and riding on two wheels for several hundred feet,
the NTSB said.

The bus fell on its side and slid for several hundred more
feet before striking a sign post on the shoulder. Unlike some
sign posts, this one wasn’t designed to give way. The post
sheared off the roof and came into contact with the seats,
adding to the fatality count as trapped passengers couldn’t get
out of the way. Lap belts would have reduced the severity of
injuries, the board found.

28 Deaths

At least 28 people died in crashes last year as a
proliferation of discount lines in East Coast cities made buses
the fastest-growing form of U.S. commercial transportation.

Williams told investigators that a semi-trailer truck
veered into his lane and hit his bus, running it off the road.
Investigators couldn’t find any evidence of a collision before
the accident.

The bus driver had almost no opportunity to sleep the day
before the crash, NTSB investigators said. The board found his
fatigue probably caused the accident. In documents compiled by
board investigators, Williams was shown to have been using his
mobile phone and driving a rental car during hours he reported
he was asleep on his driving-hour logs.

He was also in an accident three days before the Bronx
crash, according to NTSB investigators.

Company ‘Unsatisfactory’

World Wide Travel was shut down after the crash, according
to agency records. The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Administration, which regulates bus safety, ranked the company
“unsatisfactory” in a post-accident review, investigators

The company’s assets were transferred after the crash to
another company, Great Escapes, which continues to operate, the
NTSB said. The company’s management doesn’t have a system in
place to reduce risky driver behaviors, leading to repeated
safety violations and a high crash risk, the board said.

The FMCSA found that World Wide Travel had an accident rate
of 5.7 per million miles traveled. The agency classifies firms
with rates above 1.2 as “unsatisfactory.”

The company was rejected for a U.S. Defense Department
contract to carry military personnel in 2009, according to the
safety board records.

Williams previously was fired from jobs with Coach USA, a
unit of Perth, Scotland-based Stagecoach Group Plc (SGC), and the New
York Metropolitan Transit Agency, the NTSB found.

Multiple Cases

The NTSB reviewed the driving records of drivers in three
other fatal bus crashes as part of the Bronx investigation. In
each case, the drivers had violations and poor driving histories
that employers hadn’t known about, the board found.

The bus industry has difficulty vetting drivers before
hiring because states provide only three years of driving
history, said Peter Pantuso, president and chief executive
officer of the Washington-based American Bus Association. Some
kind of federal license for drivers who want to carry passengers
might be needed, he said in an interview.

“We’re in a box,” Pantuso said. “We’ve long wanted more
information than we’ve been able to easily get.”

Williams’s history of driving violations dates to 1990,
when he was 17. From the time he received a license in 1995
through 2003, he was cited seven times for violations ranging
from improper passing to failure to obey a stop sign, according
to the records. During that period, his license was revoked five
separate times.

After a three-year period of no violations, he received a
commercial license in 2006.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Jeff Plungis in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Bernard Kohn at

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