Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A bit of an update about that Williams Bus Crash

Here's an update about the Williams Bus Crash...

* One more crash victim has died in hospital, bring the death toll to NINE

* Driver, Watts, was confirmed NOT having "passenger endorsement" on his commercial driver's license. In other words, he is NOT licensed to drive a bus

* Colusa County DA have received blood test results... Watts was NOT DUI, and thus the DUI charges will be dropped. He will, however, still be held for parole violation. As I had suspected, he dozed off (or as his mother put it, diabetic coma)

* Even if the driver has diabetes, that means he should NOT be driving any way, as FMCSA rules are clear... Diabetes suffering drivers are PREVENTED from driving a commercial motor vehicle, unless they can pass the specific diabetic exemptions given by FMCSA/USDOT.

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Why are there no seatbelts in buses

So why aren't there seatbelts in US motorcoaches?

There are no seatbelts in US buses because it was not required by US Department of Transportation, for several reasons:

* USDOT, and its sister organization, FMCSA, have concluded that seatbelts do not significantly add safety for the cost they incur. Seatbelts are basically only useful to prevent ejections, which only occurs in overturn/rollovers. Statistics for past 10 years show that rollovers occur roughly 29% of motorcoach crashes that is tracked by FMCSA, and only 50 fatatalies in the past 10 years (as of 2006) due to ejection, and the potential cost of retrofitting seatbelts to buses is in the BILLIONS. The money is better spend elsewhere, such as reduce greenhouse gases and so on.

* Ejection can be prevented by designing better window latches and roof exit latches as well. Remember, there can be up to 61 seats (more if you're dealing with double-decks, articulated buses, and so on) and that's 122 more pieces that needs to be checked daily. For windows and exits, there are just a few on a bus. And no one has yet to design a seatbelt that fits a baby all the way up to a 300+ pound human.

* Buses, esp. motorcoaches with the luggage space under the seats, are high enough off the ground that only impact with a fixed object or vehicle of similar size (big rig, another bus, etc.) would affect the passenger cabin.

* Fire is more of a danger to buses, esp. when those onboard are seniors. In 2005, a bus carrying Katrina refugees caught fire when rear brakes locked. The ensuing fire generated thick black smoke that killed several evacuated seniors from a nursing home despite the best efforts of onlookers and the driver to fight the fire and evacuate the passengers. If there are seatbelts, one can only imagine even WORSE confusion.

While both Europe and Australia have seatbelt requirements, they differ somewhat, and so far USDOT shows no plan to adopt either standard. They believe better window glazing and locking mechanism is more likely to prevent ejection of passengers in case of rollover.

USDOT is also looking forward to recommend roll stability control computers in all larger vehicles, but that is still in study phases.

Drivers are supposed to remember that their vehicle does not turn on a dime, and hitting things doesn't always hurt the bus a lot, and preventing rollovers is more important than avoiding collisions.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Bus accident, and what YOU can do to avoid them

By now, the entire US of A have heard about this accident involving a bus in Williams, California. To summarize... a bus driver, first day on the job, flipped his bus, killing the owner and 7 other passengers, seriously injuring himself and dozens of other passengers. There were warning signs that this group never understood, but those of us in the industry knew to look for.

First of all, the bus was an ex-Greyhound, but with the words Greyhound removed. However, the vinyl had sat on the paint so long (the bus, judging by the model, is likely a MC-9 or MC-12, which make them about 20 years old, if not older) that the words look like they are still there. The original red and blue stripes were never removed. Yet we have learned that the bus was from "Cobb's Bus Service".

WARNING SIGN: bus with very old markings / doesn't match bus company name

Any bus company would PROUDLY display its own name to the world, except those that specialize in "discreet" transportation. So if you ran into a bus that has NO NAME , or a clearly WRONG name (obviously Greyhound is NOT Cobb's Bus Service), esp. a beat-up old bus like it came out of an old movie set or a junkyard, warning bells should be going off in your head.

There is one exception: in the industry it is common to "subcharter" someone else's bus to do a job. For example, you order a bus through A. A actually doesn't have a bus for you, but A knows that B has a bus available, so A takes the order, but actually subcharters B's bus and send it to you. This is very easy to confirm: call up A's dispatcher or whoever's in charge and ask him to verify that so-and-so was subchartered for your job. In fact, you may be able to specify that you must be informed if your job was subchartered to someone else, or you don't allow subcharter. Just make sure you specify it ahead of time.

Second item... the bus has "invalid plates and other ID info". Every bus in California (and in fact, the entire US of A) is required to have proper DOT approved side letters that displays the DOT and MC registration numbers. In CA, it's also needed to display the business name, home city, and the CA PUC Charter Party number (TCP). All of these information are easily available online for anyone to find and verify.

WARNING SIGN: improper/invalid side numbers, esp. TCP (CA PUC) and DOT

Look up something at the DOT FMCSA SafeStat Website

Look up something at the CA PUC Website

Thus, if you ordered a bus from Company A, the DOT or TCP numbers that you can look up better match. Or else, you better find out if this bus was subchartered or not, and demand to see THAT company's liability and accident insurance certificate before you depart.

If you don't have access to a computer, you can call the CA PUC hotline to either check if that company is legally operating in CA, or to even make a complaint.

Third, a warning sign is when the driver obviously not know what he's doing. According to eyewitnesses on the bus, the owner (who died in the crash) was talking to the driver all the time, giving him instructions and so on. Where there is nothing prohibiting passengers from talking to the driver, logically this should be minimized, and a bus coordinator should be onboard to deal with the passengers.

WARNING SIGN: some older man keep talking to the driver, who doesn't seem to know what he's doing

One other warning point... according to the map, the driver is NOT on the main highway, which is the fastest route. Usually, you go straight north on the freeway to Williams, then turn east into Colusa. This bus was on a LOCAL ROAD east of the freeway. Was it avoiding a checkpoint, taking a shortcut, or did the driver took the wrong exit?

WARNING SIGN: Driver exit not at normal exit, or cut lane at last second (as if he forgot to exit), or had to make U-turn to get back on route (signs of unfamiliarity)

Next entry, we'll discuss what it takes to be a commercial passenger driver, (i.e. bus driver) in the US, and why there are no seatbelts in the buses.

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