WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Transportation Safety Board put heavy blame on the Georgia Department of Transportation for an Atlanta bus crash last year that killed five college baseball players, saying confusing highway signs were a primary cause. The board also cited driver error and a lack of safety features such as seat belts as contributing factors, fueling calls for tougher standards on U.S. bus operators.
Investigators said the bus driver in the March 2 accident thought he was staying in an HOV lane when he drove onto an elevated exit ramp, plowing through a stop sign at highway speed, and hurtling from an overpass back onto the interstate below. Five members of Ohio's Bluffton University baseball team, along with the driver and his wife, were killed. The crash injured another 28 people.
NTSB investigators said Georgia officials changed the initial design of the exit signs after having trouble mounting them. The change deviated from federal guidance on pairing some exit signs together to make them more clear, they said, but it did not amount to a violation of federal regulations, which allow for some exceptions.
The NTSB recommended that the Federal Highway Administration proceed with a proposal announced after the crash to adopt more clear, consistent regulations for similar traffic configurations around the country. The transportation safety board also expressed frustration that federal regulators have not acted on its long-standing recommendations for improved safety features on motorcoaches. The NTSB has recommended seat belts or other passenger restraints such as shatterproof windows and stronger roofs since a 1968 head-on collision involving a Greyhound bus killed 19 passengers near Baker, Calif. The Transportation Department has not implemented the recommendations, however, and Congress has remained quiet as the bus industry has lobbied heavily against costly new standards.
Industry officials maintain that buses are among the safest forms of travel and that more crash test data is needed before the government takes action. But parents of the crash victims — several of whom attended Tuesday's meeting in Washington — have seized on the accident to campaign for tougher regulations.
They are pushing for bipartisan legislation introduced after the wreck by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, that would force regulators to act. The bill is currently stuck in committee.
Source: Associated Press