NTSB: Distracted Driver Caused Fatal Arizona Bus Crash

LCT Staff
Posted on June 23, 2010

A bus driver attending to a side door while going about 70 mph drifts out of the lane, overcorrects, and flips his bus over. The bus was not equipped with a lane departure warning system.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A January 2009 fatal tour bus accident near Dolan Springs, Ariz. resulted from the driver being distracted by trying to fix a problem with a driver’s side door as he traveled about 70 mph on a divided highway, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Tuesday of its investigation into the crash.

After trying to attend to the side door, the driver noticed the bus had drifted out of its lane and then abruptly turned the steering wheel to correct the drift. He then lost control of the bus, which then crashed and rolled over.

The crash happened at 4:06 p.m. MST on Jan. 30, 2009 on U.S. Highway 93 as the bus was returning to Las Vegas from Grand Canyon West. The 29-passenger bus, a 2007 Chevrolet/Starcraft, was operated by DW Tour and Charter.

The bus, carrying 16 passengers, came to rest on the southbound side of the four-lane divided highway after veering out of its northbound lane, crossing the median, and rolling over. Seven passengers were killed, and nine passengers and the driver sustained minor to serious injuries.

The NTSB did not elaborate on the exact nature of the problem the driver had with the side door at the time of the accident.

NTSB investigators found that other factors in addition to the driver’s failure to maintain control of his vehicle contributed to the accident and its severity.

Had the vehicle been equipped with a lane departure warning system, the driver would have been alerted upon the initial drift from the driving lane. A stability control system, already widely used in automobiles, could have reduced the likelihood of the driver losing control of the bus and rolling over.

“Along with the efforts being made to address the issue of distracted driving, lane departure warning technology and stability control systems can help prevent accidents like the one in Dolan Springs from ever occurring,” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said.

The Safety Board determined that because the U.S. Department of Transportation has yet to establish consistent classifications for each bus body type in operation, it is unclear whether current bus safety initiatives affect medium-sized buses.

The NTSB also found that if there were federal standards addressing occupant protection, roof strength and window-glazing, the likelihood of catastrophic outcomes in medium-sized bus and motorcoach rollovers would be reduced.

From this investigation the NTSB made the following recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

• Require new commercial vehicles exceeding 10,000 pounds to be outfitted with lane departure warning systems, stability control systems, and safer overhead luggage racks.

• Develop standard regulatory classifications and definitions for all bus body types.

• Include all buses weighing more than 10,000 pounds, other than school buses, in rulemaking on occupant protection, roof strength and window glazing; and require all buses above 10,000 pounds to be equipped with data recording systems.

A synopsis of the NTSB’s report — including the probable cause, conclusions, and recommendations — is available on the NTSB’s WEB SITE.

The NTSB’s full report will be available on the Web site in several weeks.

Source: NTSB

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