Although there are several convenience factors to using buses, it’s important to remember that they’re big, heavy vehicles on the road that carry a serious accident risk. Just like car accidents, there are many causes of bus accidents — only the crashes are usually more serious due to the sheer size and weight of buses.
A typical, fully-loaded school bus can weigh about 42,000 pounds, while an average passenger automobile weighs about 3,000 pounds. Due to this size disparity and the basic laws of physics, any collision between a bus and another vehicle is likely to result in serious, and even fatal, injuries.
Determining the cause of a bus accident is important, as that defines who’s responsible for your damages. This is one of the first things an experienced bus accident attorney will do during discovery for your lawsuit.
Here are some of the common causes of bus accidents.
One of the top causes of serious bus accidents in Michigan and throughout the country is bus company negligence. The motor coach industry transports more than 700 million passengers every year in the U.S. However, despite serving a similar number of people as the airline industry, the record-keeping and bus inspection protocols are not nearly as stringent.
This means bus companies often turn a blind eye to the federal regulations, training drivers or keeping their fleets maintained. These bus companies deliberately choose to sacrifice public safety for a bigger bottom line.
In addition, buses require a great deal of upkeep and maintenance to keep them safely operating. Older school buses, motor coaches, and Greyhound buses that lack seat belts and other safety equipment may increase the risk of injury or death from a bus accident. A bus accident could occur due to poor bus maintenance or a defective part that the company has failed to take action in fixing.
While there are many laws in place that attempt to regulate bus drivers, they are often disregarded, especially by tour or charter bus companies. For instance, there are “hours of service” laws that address how long a bus driver can be on the road and must be on break before starting another shift. Other laws regulate bus speed, turning and passing. Drivers may also be negligent because they were texting or making a call on their cell phones. Again, an accident may also be the result of the driver being poorly trained, or just a plain bad driver.
But our attorneys always say when a bus driver causes an accident, it’s technically the fault of the bus company who employed and trained that driver.
A sub-category of bus driver and bus company negligence is bus driver fatigue. Fatigue, and fatigue caused by sleep apnea, is the top highway killer in the U.S., and it greatly increases the chance of a bus wreck. For example, drivers with obstructive sleep apnea have 2.5 times greater risk of having a highway accident than drivers without sleep apnea, as the condition causes driver fatigue, according to a recent study by Findley, Unverzagt & Suratt, “Automobile Accidents Involving Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea.”
In fact, the American Trucking Association states that at least 28% of its drivers have problems with sleep apnea; compared to 4% of the general population. The numbers can’t be much better for bus drivers, who have very similar occupations.
In rare occasions, a bus accident could be caused by inclement weather or poor road conditions. Hazardous weather coupled with the bus’s weight and inability to quickly maneuver around situations can cause wrecks.
Still, bus drivers should be properly trained to operate the bus and drive according to the weather conditions, as mandated by the law. There are certain precautions drivers of commercial motor vehicles are required to take when there’s bad weather.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a blind spot as “an area that is not seen by the naked eye, or in the equipment provided.” Buses have mirrors to eliminate blind spots. Therefore, our attorneys contend that a blind spot is only an area that cannot be seen by the naked eye or the equipment (which should be properly adjusted) to be considered a true blind spot.
Left-turn bus accidents are some of the most common. With regards to left turns, blind spots are really areas behind the left “A” pillar and mirror that are temporarily obstructed to the bus driver — and not blind at all. Bus drivers are trained to simply lean forward and backward to eliminate these blind spots.
A driver that is not able to move forward, left, or right in the driver’s seat because of height or weight requirements raises questions of improper training and improper selection of the driver on behalf of the bus company.
A bus crash may also be caused by the negligence of another driver. With the large amount of drivers on the road, and especially the increase in distracted driving, another driver could fail to obey traffic regulations and cause a serious bus wreck.
Bus fires can be particularly dangerous. Passengers at the rear of the bus may not be able to escape. Escape hatches may be too small. Fumes may overcome the passengers before they can exit.
Typically, fires in buses arise from two locations. The engine compartment is the cause of about 60% of all bus fires. Engine compartment fires can typically prevented by careful, systemic maintenance as dirty engines, covered with grease and oily substances from age or leakage, create a ripe condition for fires from even a small spark or the high heat of travel.
The second most common area for bus fires is tires and wheel wells. Underinflated tires are a significant problem, as radial tires hold their shape even with low air pressure. However, when tires are operated at low air pressure, heat builds up quickly (particularly at highway speeds) and a fire (or shredding of a tire) can result. Most commonly this is due to under inflation of the inside dual tire.
Many cases can come out of a bus accident. Whether you’re a passenger on the bus, in another vehicle, a pedestrian or a bicyclist, you may have a claim again the bus driver, the bus employer or owner of the bus involved in the accident.