Attorney Steven Gursten weighs in on Channel 4 News, after two SMART bus accidents in one week left one dead and one critically injured
On Thursday, reporter Kimberly Gill of Channel 4 News stopped by the office to interview me on bus safety – in the wake of two serious SMART bus accidents involving pedestrians.
I’m representing a couple that has been seriously injured from a SMART bus crash in West Bloomfield that occurred several weeks ago when the driver fell asleep. Over the years, I’ve become quite familiar with SMART from helping people involved in many other bus accidents with pedestrians and other cars, and I’ve written about some of the litigation tactics used by SMART and its lawyers on the pages of this legal blog.
On December 2, 2014, a woman crossing the street was killed by a SMART bus turning left. Police say Sally Lamay was hit by a bus and the driver said he didn’t see the woman. And on December 3, 2014, an elderly man was hit by a SMART bus in Chesterfield Township. The man is in critical condition, according to Channel 4.
One key point – buses are a lot more dangerous than people think. There are an estimated 63,000 bus accidents every year, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. I told Kimberly Gill that if you tell me a bus accident has occurred involving a pedestrian or a car, and nothing else, I would guess it probably involved the bus making a left turn or a right turn. Turning a 17-ton bus is difficult, and left turns are especially dangerous. For this reason, many bus companies, such as Greyhound and UPS, now have computerized bus routes that avoid left turns by drivers whenever possible.
But, as I teach lawyers who litigate commercial motor vehicle cases involving buses and trucks, there really is no such thing as a “blind spot accident.” Yes, there are blind spots, of course. But bus drivers are taught to know their “no zone” blind spots. And if they keep scanning ahead for what will be falling into their blind spot, or “no zone” then there really is not ever an excuse for not being prepared for what will be falling into their blind spot.
These cases also highlight the importance of drivers using their turn signal to signal their intentions. For pedestrians who are legally in the crosswalk, it is nearly impossible to anticipate the bus driver’s intent to make a left turn versus going straight when the pedestrian is halfway in the crosswalk and has a walk signal and the right of way.
It is also is nearly impossible for the pedestrian to get out of the way. I do not represent the family of the young woman Sally Lamay who was tragically just killed in Troy, but based upon what Kimberly Gill told me about how her accident occurred with the SMART bus, that was my hunch as to how it most likely happened. And as I teach lawyers at these seminars, once a 17-ton bus starts moving toward you and you fall into the driver’s blind spot because he isn’t looking ahead into who will be falling into the “no zone,” it almost always leads to tragedy.
Add a distracted driving bus driver into the equation, and we now truly have a recipe for disaster. Kimberly Gill showed me cell phone video footage she took of another SMART bus driver who was driving and using his cell phone that same day. It looked like he was texting. I told her that the human factors studies show that such a driver is almost 23 times more likely to be involved in a bus accident.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration instituted a cell phone ban for all commercial truck and bus drivers. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t bus drivers barreling down the road on their cell phones, such as the video shown in the Channel 4 news story. And it isn’t just texting. It can be any distraction, such as taking a phone call, a passenger, or other common distractions, according to the FMSCA studies on bus driver distraction.
What it comes down to is prevention. If bus companies like SMART are properly training their drivers to follow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Rules, and if they hire good drivers, so many of these serious accidents can be prevented.