Union County fatality puts bus safety back in the spotlight
By Ashley Wislock and Francis Scarcella The Daily Item
NEW COLUMBIA — As investigators continue to look for the cause of the early-morning Wednesday bus crash on Interstate 80, the issue of passenger bus safety is in the limelight again.
The Union County accident, which killed one and injured more than 40 others, is the second major traffic incident in less than a month involving a Greyhound bus. The other crash occurred at 4 a.m. on Sept. 14 in southwest Ohio, when a bus drove off the right side of a highway and rolled over, injuring 35 passengers.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol says 64-year-old Dwayne Garrett told police at the scene of the Sept. 14 accident that he had been drinking coffee, started coughing, then lost consciousness. Garrett was later cited for operating a vehicle without reasonable control, a misdemeanor.
A spokeswoman for Greyhound said the driver of the bus that crashed in Union County was well within the federal Hours of Service requirements driving regulations of the company, which require nine hours of off-duty between shifts. This driver was “well within the requirements,” Alexandra Pedrini said.
Pedrini would not say if the bus was equipped with cameras or a black box, only saying, “anything that we can provide to authorities to assist in their investigation will be provided to local authorities.”
All inspection records on the bus are up to date, Pedrini said.
“Greyhound keeps all records on file and these will be provided to authorities upon request to aid in their investigation,” she said.
As in any transportation sector, there are numerous things that could go wrong during a bus trip. Driver fatigue and equipment malfunction are two of the leading causes of bus crashes, said Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union. Often drivers are asked to keep up a tough schedule and often work numerous jobs to stay afloat.
“(Bus companies) are making huge profits by pushing people beyond human capabilities,” he said.
In a recent report, the union said the enforcement of the Hours of Service regulations is “ineffective,” saying, “the state police in general do not perform random checks of passenger buses the way they do on cargo-hauling trucks because of the dissatisfaction expressed by passengers when their bus gets pulled out of commission and no replacement vehicle arrives for hours.”
A 2012 report from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration states that 37 percent of 2011 motorcoach crashes were the result of driver fatigue, while 13 percent were the result of inattention and another 13 percent vehicle condition. About 19 percent of the total crashes were not the fault of the driver, according to the report.
Another factor which complicates crashes is the tracking of passengers.
Each Greyhound bus has a passenger list, Pedrini said, and check identification for purchases with a credit card and print-at-home tickets.
The police report from the Sept. 14 crash indicates that identifying many of the passengers was difficult, and said many passengers gave false identifying information to first responders. In some cases, names didn’t match because tickets had been purchased by other people.
A Harrisburg Patriot-News story from 2010 told the story of a 14-year-old Dauphin County boy who was able to board a bus to New York City since it is totally up to the discretion of the ticketing agent to ask for identification for minors.
His mother, Doris Borreli, said he was never asked for an ID and he made it to King of Prussia before being stopped by police.
Pedrini was not certain if the National Transportation Safety Board would be investigating the incident, but said Greyhound will cooperate with any agency that looks into the crash.
“If other governmental agencies decide to look into the situation, that is up to them and we will fully comply with their needs,” she said.
Due to the federal government shutdown, the public relations office of the NTSB is closed and therefore could not confirm whether an investigation would be taking place.