Operations

Bus Bang-Ups Lead To Better Accident Policies

Jim Luff
Posted on September 17, 2012
The severity of this May 4 crash included a fuel tank ripped open as driver rear-ended a limo bus owned by The Limousine Scene of Bakersfield, Calif.

The severity of this May 4 crash included a fuel tank ripped open as driver rear-ended a limo bus owned by The Limousine Scene of Bakersfield, Calif.

The severity of this May 4 crash included a fuel tank ripped open as driver rear-ended a limo bus owned by The Limousine Scene of Bakersfield, Calif.
The severity of this May 4 crash included a fuel tank ripped open as driver rear-ended a limo bus owned by The Limousine Scene of Bakersfield, Calif.

Our 21-year-old company has sustained five fleet vehicle crashes, the last two involving buses. I have learned many lessons from these accidents and realize the value of planning for accidents and attempting to avoid them altogether. Since our inception, we have traveled more than 20 million miles. I attribute our low accident rate to good hiring practices, ongoing training, and monitoring. Three were not our fault, one was deemed 50/50, and one “at fault” is in litigation where a jury will decide.

Bus Accident No. 1:
Our driver was traveling west on a two-lane highway following a dump truck in September 2011. The driver of the dump truck moved to the left lane while our driver maintained his position. The dump truck driver inexplicably applied his brakes with enough force to skid and made a hard right turn in front of us in an attempt to U-Turn to a dirt road and travel east in a construction zone. Our driver broadsided the truck and was deemed at fault for following too close. This case is in litigation and we expect a jury to exonerate us or at least place some blame on the dump truck driver. The bus had several passengers that were injured and airlifted from the crash site in a remote area. The remaining passengers were transported by vans back to the pickup location. (See “Limo Bus Collision Jolts Veteran Operator,” LCT Magazine, December 2011).

Bus Accident No. 2:
Our driver was set up for a left turn into our yard in a lane of travel on May 4. He was stopped with his left turn signal on and waiting for opposing traffic to clear. He was rear-ended at high-speed by a drunk driver who was texting while driving and admitted to both being intoxicated and texting while driving. No passengers were on the bus. Our driver was injured.

An ounce of prevention

A drunk driver plowed his vehicle completely underneath a limo-bus near Bakersfield, Calif., on May 4, injuring the driver and his passenger. The driver was texting at the time of the crash.
A drunk driver plowed his vehicle completely underneath a limo-bus near Bakersfield, Calif., on May 4, injuring the driver and his passenger. The driver was texting at the time of the crash.

Preventing accidents starts with who you hire to operate your bus. I require two years previous bus driving experience with an absolutely clean driving record. We are not a training facility. We need seasoned drivers that have experience to bring to the table. Regular safety meetings should be conducted to teach employees how to handle various emergency situations. Defensive driving courses are a great investment. GPS tracking systems that report and store vehicle speeds are a good method of controlling your drivers and monitoring them in the field. Regent Limo of Houston has a system that allows managers to govern the speed of their vehicles. Camera systems such as Drive-Cam also work to “observe” the driver at all times and report unsafe actions. Hosting fun events such as a bus “roadeo” can help sharpen skills such as using mirrors for backing, turning and parking in tight quarters.


How To Prevent Accidents

  • Hire professionally trained drivers with clean driving records.
  • Install a GPS System with speed alerts to notify management of speeding.
  • Install onboard cameras such as Drive-Cam that allow real-time or downloadable monitoring.
  • Send drivers to defensive driving classes.
  • Conduct safety meetings to stress no tailgating, no unnecessary risks, and route planning.
  • Conduct training classes or roadeos to practice backing in tight areas and use of mirrors.
  • Monitor drivers in the field by periodically following them and observing driving habits.
  • Teach drivers to plan routes that avoid left turns whenever possible.
  • Drive with headlights on at all times.
  • Use flashers whenever loading or disembarking passengers.
  • Use flashers whenever parked in a safety compromised position.
  • Stress to drivers that the logo on the bus is an image of the company and be courteous to fellow motorists.
  • Regularly check driver records for unreported convictions or accidents.

What to do after a crash
Having a plan of action is vital. In the initial aftermath, everyone will be in total chaos if you don’t have a set routine to follow. The plan should include drivers, dispatchers and management staff who will be assigned to oversee the accident and the subsequent aftermath, including getting passengers picked up and compensated. Managing the event could include ordering a tow truck, getting the driver drug tested, and reassigning other vehicles to cover assignments of the damaged vehicle. It will include gathering insurance information and documentation of the crash scene. Everyone needs to know what their role will be in a crash before one happens. Drivers who have a clear plan of action will be much more calm and organized in managing their passengers.

Crash Time Dos & Don’ts
DO

  • Make arrangements for passengers at the scene to be transported away.
  • Dispatch a tow truck if needed. (Buses require specialized tow equipment).
  • Dispatch a company responder.
  • Begin scene documentation as soon as practically possible.
  • Notify and make transportation arrangements for the driver’s family if needed.
  • Notify insurance agent and/or carrier hotline number.
  • Seek and obtain DOT drug/alcohol test for driver.
  • Perform post-accident debriefing with all involved and document all relative information.

DON’T

  • Never permit your driver to talk about the accident to anyone at the scene but an officer.
  • Never permit your driver to admit fault or take blame.
  • Never confront the other party. Their information will be on the collision report.
  • Never provide your internal documentation to anyone other than your insurance company. Relevant information is on the collision report.

Scene documentation
The scene of the accident has many crucial elements to document, such as physical location, time of day, temperature, glare factors, pavement condition, painted line conditions, traffic control lights and visual obstructions. Of course, there are people such as witnesses, officers, involved drivers, and injured passengers. Try to get names, badge numbers, phone numbers and insurance policy information. It will save you time in the long run to have all of this. Gather the most information you can at this time because by the next day the entire event will be surreal to you. You may remember things differently while the adrenaline was flowing than you do now. Paint a picture for the insurance company of what it looked like that day. Maybe many years down the road there will be a jury trial. Good documentation at the scene will help you recollect the events of the day as your memory of it fades.

Financial matters
There are many small expenses of an accident often overlooked during the claims process which crop up later. For instance, in Accident No. 1, we discharged a fire extinguisher, used up most of the contents of the first aid kit, and had the added expense of drivers and fuel to transport passengers from the crashed vehicle. There also was glassware broken everywhere. We spent nearly $400 replacing glasses that weren’t covered by insurance. In Accident No. 2, our freshly topped off fuel tank was ripped off the bus and dumped 75-gallons of diesel on the roadway. The first fueling should be paid by insurance as part of the damages. The DOT mandated drug test is another $100 expense.


There also are refunds that will be needed for passengers on the bus and payments to any subcontractors called in to assist with transporting to the final destination. The biggest loss will be your loss of use of the vehicle. To establish a value of your vehicle, you must prove to the insurance company what your average revenue for that vehicle has been for the past two years during the period from the crash date to the repaired date. You may want to seek an attorney at this point as the insurance company is unlikely to accept your documentation and will instead provide an “offer.” Your own policy probably does not cover loss of use. Ask your insurance agent before you need to know.

Law enforcement reports vs. the jury
One of the reasons I recommend your own scene documentation is that an “at-fault” opinion contained in a police report is the opinion of the officer. A jury might not see it the same way based on factors presented or may place “shared blame” percentages based on evidence presented at trial. To the officer, your crash is simply another day at the office documenting accidents routinely. His photos of the scene, if any are taken, may not contain other elements that an auto accident attorney could use to vindicate your driver. The officer has no vested interest in the outcome of your case and writes it purely as he sees it. Your insurance company will provide you with an attorney. If the accident goes into litigation because of differing opinions that the insurance companies cannot settle on, you will go to a trial. There actually are many procedures that happen before the actual trial, including a deposition, a pre-trial settlement conference, a pre-trial conference, a “readiness hearing,” and finally, your day in court.

Training your staff
Even if you were to practice for an accident, there is no way to simulate the amount of adrenaline that will pump through your company when you get a call that a bus has crashed. Making sure that every person who could take that dreaded call knows how to handle it will make things run much more smoothly, especially if they follow a plan of action when the moment comes. Teach your employees to maintain their composure and their professionalism, and know that staff must work together as a team. Even if there are only two people, you both need to know your roles and responsibilities.

Who Needs To Know What Drivers

  • Who in the company to call first.
  • Emergency operations such as using a fire extinguisher and opening emergency exits.
  • Have drivers practice opening the exits at least twice yearly.
  • Never admit guilt or blame.
  • Don’t make statements to anyone but law enforcement.
  • What response to expect from the company.

Dispatchers

  • Who they are to call first.
  • What tow company to call and where to tow the vehicle.
  • What subcontractors to call for assistance with passenger transportation.
  • What they are to say to news media callers.
  • When or if they are to call a driver’s family.

Management responders

  • How to conduct scene documentation.
  • Insurance claims hotline and policy number.
  • Insurance agent name and phone number.
  • Worker’s comp policy information.
  • How to complete Employer’s First Report of Injury (OSHA) form.
  • How to seek and obtain drug/alcohol testing or collect specimen using a kit.
  • How to handle media inquiries.
  • When to contact the driver’s family based on circumstances and conditions.

Related Topics: accident reduction, accident reporting, accidents, Arizona operators, California operators, Jim Luff, passenger safety, safety education, vehicle safety

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
Comments ( 1 )
  • Jay Bowlby

     | about 6 years ago

    An interesting article on what to do before and after an accident. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

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