Articles Posted in Bus Accidents

One might have thought that buses – some of the largest vehicles navigating Portland’s streets on a day-to-day basis – are fairly hard to miss. TriMet, however, is experimenting with bright rooftop lights designed to make them easier to see, according to The Oregonian. “The transit agency quietly rolled out the ‘amber safety lights’ in April and, so far, 30 buses are equipped with the light bar. It’s considering installing the devices on all its buses,” the newspaper reports.

The Oregonian, citing TriMet data, writes that “buses log roughly 73,300 miles on a daily basis. In April, TriMet registered 49 collisions involving buses, 25 of which were non-injury crashes involving cars or trucks.” Put another way, that means that TriMet is averaging almost one injury crash per day systemwide. Portland is a large city and there is always going to be a human element involved, but a system in which someone gets hurt every day clearly has more safety work to do.

So, at a basic level, we should all welcome any effort by TriMet to cut its accident rate. The newspaper’s article reports that the lights on the busses are extremely hard to miss, and notes that the cost of installing then is relatively slight – less than $500 per vehicle. Considering the number of bus accidents I have reported on in this blog over the years we can probably all agree that anything which improves safety is a good thing.

We all know that TriMet has its issues, but this one is relatively novel: a driver in Cornelius was charged with DUII last week after “callers reported the bus was swerving” as it headed east on Southwest Baseline Road. The swerving was so bad that it forced another vehicle out of its lane as the bus headed toward Hillsboro, according to The Oregonian, citing a Washington County Sheriff’s Office report.

“No one was on the bus, and the bus was not in service,” according to the newspaper, but those may be the only ‘good’ elements of this story. To state the obvious, even an empty bus can do a lot of damage.

The Oregonian reports that TriMet has opened an investigation. After her arrest the driver “was accused of DUII, but police said alcohol was not a factor. It’s unclear what she was allegedly under the influence of. According to the (police news) release, police are continuing to investigate while toxicology tests are completed,” the newspaper notes.

The death this month of a 15-year-old Grant’s Pass boy as he waited for his school bus raises serious legal questions that I would like to take a moment to explore. As reported recently in The Oregonian, the boy “was waiting on the sidewalk at his bus stop around 6:50 am” when a pick-up truck “drove over Redwood Avenue’s center turn lane, into the opposite lane of travel and onto the sidewalk, hitting him.”

The driver of the pick-up was a 21-year-old man from Central Point. After hitting the boy, the paper reports, he “drove off the sidewalk and stopped nearby, authorities said.” He is now being held in a local jail and faces both a criminally negligent homicide charge and separate drug possession charges. The Oregonian reports that heroin was found in the pick-up though it does not say whether blood tests indicate that the driver was under the influence of drugs or any other substance at the time of the accident.

Beyond the criminal charges the driver faces this is exactly the sort of case where civil liability is justified to help family members know that justice has truly been served. To that end, it is instructive to examine Oregon’s Wrongful Death statute (ORS 30.020) in greater detail.

Just as the July 4 holiday weekend got underway news broke of a sweeping recall of school buses. According to an Associated Press report, republished by ABC News, “Blue Bird is recalling more than 2,500 All American school buses and some transit buses to fix a problem that could make steering more difficult. The company also is recalling a smaller number of school buses that may be prone to a propane fuel leak, according to paperwork filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”

It will be worth keeping an eye on the NHTSA vehicle recall website over the next week or two for further details as this story develops. At this writing the NHTSA had not posted information about the Blue Bird recall, presumably because the company’s paperwork has not yet been completely processed. In the meantime, however, it is safe to say that it is difficult to imagine a clearer risk of injuries to children than a school bus with a steering or a fuel leak issue.

The AP story did not say how many school buses are affected by the steering-related recall notice, only that it involves “some buses made between 2011 and last May.” The story put the number of transit buses affected at 400, but did not say in which cities they are currently on the road. The fuel leak issue involves “388 Vision school buses made in 2012 or 2013,” the news agency reports.

It has been just over three months since an Oregon bus crash in the Cabbage Hill area in the east of the state killed nine people and injured 38. As official investigations and a search for answers move forward, The Oregonian reports that lawsuits accusing the state Department of Transportation of negligence have now been filed by the loved ones of three of the Oregon bus crash victims, as well as by at least one of the accident’s survivors.

As the Associated Press reports, and as I blogged at the time, the deadly Oregon Bus Crash last December took place when a tour bus “slid on ice east of Pendleton, crashed through a guardrail and rolled down a steep hill.” Pictures published at the time showed a gruesome scene of wreckage on the snow-covered mountain pass.

According to the newspaper, relatives of the victims “are seeking at least $10 million in punitive damages, injuries and wrongful death… The suit claims ODOT was negligent for failing to equip the stretch of Interstate 84 with barriers strong enough to prevent the bus from leaving the roadway; not adequately plowing and sanding the freeway; failing to warn motorists of unsafe conditions; and failing to require commercial vehicles to take an alternative route.” The Canadian company that owned the vehicle, along with the bus driver, are also named as defendants in the suit, according to The Oregonian.

Last month I wrote about the growing controversy over work rules for Tri-Met bus and train drivers and concerns that public safety could be affected when drivers log excessively long shifts. In January, the union representing Tri-Met’s drivers rejected proposed work rules saying that, as written, they posed a threat to both drivers themselves and the public at large.

According to a report in yesterday’s Oregonian the union and Tri-Met now “have officially signed an agreement requiring bus drivers to take off a minimum number of hours between shifts.” The paper reports that both Tri-Met and the union “promised that the agreement will fix a system that has allowed several drivers to pad their paychecks by working as many as 22 hours in a 24-hour period.” (the link to the Oregonian, below, contains, in turn, a link to the full text of the work agreement)

Until now, as The Oregonian notes, loopholes in the federal government’s system of oversight for drivers and passenger haulers mean that federal rules preventing excessive shifts or hours do not apply to Tri-Met’s bus operators but do apply to the transit system’s train operators. The result was a system that has long had real potential to endanger the drivers themselves, their passengers and cyclists and pedestrians who share the road with Tri-Met’s buses and trains, as a number of tragic Oregon traffic accidents have demonstrated in recent years.

The union representing Tri-Met workers has rejected proposed work rules that would have allowed bus and other transit drivers in the Portland area to work 14-hour shifts, according to a report published in The Oregonian.

The paper reports that “the union representing operators, mechanics and support staff quickly rejected the plan on Monday, saying it didn’t go far enough to address the growing problem with exhaustion.” The paper quotes a union leader saying “No human being, especially one transporting passengers through city traffic, can safely operate a bus over a 14-hour workday, day-after-day.”

The proposed work rules would “limit” drivers to a 14-hour workday and require at 10 hours off between shifts. According to the paper the proposed work plan would have applied to drivers of both buses and light-rail trains. The paper notes that “the current policy, based on service days, makes it easy for a driver to finagle extra overtime by working marathon runs.”

Following up on a story I first blogged about last week, The Oregonian reports that federal authorities have ordered the bus company involved in the New Year’s weekend crash on Deadman’s Pass section of Cabbage Hill, east of Pendleton, to cease operations in the United States. According to the newspaper, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced on this week that the Canadian company operating the tour bus had let the driver work “well beyond” the 70 hours per 8 days maximum allowed by US law.

As the paper notes, “nine people died in late December when (the) bus… ran through a guardrail and rolled down a steep embankment along Interstate 84.” A further 39 people were injured in the fatal Oregon bus crash, an accident which, as I noted last week, raises significant wrongful death questions.

The action taken by federal officials raises several issues. Obviously, rules designed to prevent driver fatigue need to be rigorously enforced in the interest of public safety, but enforcing those rules on a foreign company is likely to involve significant technical and logistical issues. It is especially worrisome that, as The Oregonian reports, the order requiring the company to cease US operations “specifically cites the company for failure to test the driver for drugs and alcohol prior to the crash, failure to properly maintain driver qualification requirements and failure to operate a motor vehicle in a safe manner.” To be fair, it is difficult to imagine that Canadian national or British Columbian provincial law (the bus company is headquartered in Vancouver, B.C.) does not also address most if not all of these issues – but assuming that it does, one has to wonder why two governments as closely tied as ours and Canada’s are not able to exchange information that might go a long way toward protecting public safety.

By now most Oregonians will have read or heard about the terrible New Year’s weekend bus crash on Deadman’s Pass in the east of the state. According to The Oregonian, nine people died and dozens were injured last weekend when a tour bus “skidded off Interstate 84 east of Pendleton and rolled 200 feet down a mountain canyon.”

The newspaper quotes an Oregon state police spokesman saying that 39 injured people were taken to hospitals across three states. A total of 49 people were aboard the bus at the time of the accident, meaning that only one person avoided injury in this Oregon bus crash. The newspaper reports that the passengers ranged in age from seven to 73 years old. Most were Americans and Canadians of Korean ancestry.

The bus was reportedly returning from an excursion to Las Vegas at the time of the accident, which occurred on a dangerous stretch of the Cabbage Hill section of I-84. “Oregon state police investigators will look into the possibility that (the) bus driver… was driving too fast for the slippery conditions on the notorious mountain pass,” according to the paper. “Investigators will also determine if driver fatigue was a factor,” The Oregonian reports.

Following up a story I originally wrote about last month, there are new developments in the death of an 11-year-old Portland girl in a September accident involving a party bus.

According to The Oregonian the girl died when her skull was crushed as she “tumbled out of an emergency window on the bus when it careened around a corner… at Southwest First Avenue and Harrison Street.” She is reported to have been sitting atop a horseshoe-shaped couch in the back of the bus at the time of the fatal Portland bus accident. “The bus was full of kids on their way to a birthday party but no adults were in the back,” the newspaper reports.

As troubling as this lack of adult supervision is the revelation that the bus itself lacked the proper safety inspection permit and was being operated by a man who was not licensed to drive this type of vehicle, according to The Oregonian. This image of a company putting immediate profits ahead of safety is chilling not only for any parent considering whether to let a child attend a party involving this sort of bus but, frankly, for any adult who might be thinking of hiring a party bus for a special celebration. The fact that a window that was supposed to function as an emergency exit flew open so easily is a reminder of how essential the required government safety inspections are.

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