A surprising number of bus drivers in California cause accidents that injure passengers. Whether the bus is operated by a school district or a private business, injured passengers have the right to make a claim for compensation when negligent bus drivers or bus owners are responsible for the accident. A Deadly Crash One of the deadliest crashes in California history occurred in October, when a tour bus crashed into the rear of a refrigerated tractor-trailer. The bus driver and 12 passengers were killed, while 31 other passengers were injured. The big rig was moving slowly on I-10, reportedly because of utility work on the freeway. The bus was traveling at 65 miles per hour when it collided with the semi. Most of the deaths involved passengers who were seated in the front of the bus. Older busses rarely have seatbelts to protect passengers from being ejected from their seats during a crash. Nearly all of the tour bus passengers were thrown from the seats they occupied when the bus struck the tractor-trailer. The cause of the accident was not immediately apparent. The driver may have fallen asleep or the bus may have experienced a brake failure. The last stop the bus made was at a casino, where the passengers and driver spent several hours. Whether the bus driver slept or consumed alcohol during that stop is under investigation. It may be that the driver of the tractor-trailer was partially at fault for driving at such a slow speed on a freeway, although news reports suggest that the truck driver was responding appropriately as he approached utility workers. In any event, it is clear that most of the fault resides with the bus driver (who may have failed to see the semi) or the bus company (if the accident is attributable to poor maintenance of the bus). In this unusual case, the driver owned the bus company, so passengers will be able to pursue the driver’s estate and his corporation as they seek compensation. Casino Bus Tour Accidents Accidents involving tour busses that visit casinos have become so prevalent that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is studying the crashes to determine whether they have anything in common. Most of the crashes involve smaller bus companies. Smaller companies might be responsible for the majority of casino bus tour accidents for a couple of reasons. Larger companies may enforce safety standards more rigorously, while smaller companies may be more likely to organize casino tours. Fortunately, California requires even small bus companies to carry liability insurance. Charter Bus Accidents Earlier this year, a charter bus in Merced County crashed into a sign pole, slicing the bus in half. Five of the thirty passengers died. Other passengers were injured when they were ejected from the bus. Charter bus companies tend to be small. With less revenue than a company like Greyhound, charter companies may be tempted to spend less on bus maintenance. Companies might also be willing to overlook poor driving records in order to attract drivers who are willing to work for low wages. Some companies have even failed to verify that a driver’s commercial driver’s license is current. School Bus Accidents Few accidents are as tragic as school bus crashes that kill or maim children. California school busses have crashed into bridges, trees, and other vehicles. A school bus that goes off the road on a hill or near a body of water endangers the lives of the children, even if the bus driver was not speeding. California requires seatbelts on school busses made after 1995. The state also requires school bus drivers to participate in more intensive training than most states require. Unfortunately, all of those laudable efforts do not prevent California school bus accidents from occurring. Causes of Bus Accidents Most bus accidents are attributable to driver error. Examples include:
- Falling asleep at the wheel.
- Operating under the influence of drugs that the driver consumes to stay awake.
- Distracted driving, including cellphone use.
- Speeding in order to stay on schedule.
- Disregarding traffic signals.
- Failing to stop and make a careful observation before entering a railway crossing.
- Losing control on a curve or while cornering.
- Starting the bus or letting it roll forward while passengers are embarking or disembarking.
- Starting to move before passengers are fully seated.