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How to adjust mirrors on buses to prevent crashes

August 8, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

Check for improper adjustment, and get out and look!

Poor mirror adjustment is one of the top causes of bus and truck accidents involving lane changes and pedestrians. For instance, I appeared on Channel 4 News on the issue after a rash of SMART bus accidents in Metro Detroit last year.

As I told the News, turning a 17-ton bus is difficult,  and left turns are especially dangerous due to what’s called the “no zone” blind spot. Because of this inherent danger, many bus companies use dispatch personnel to route buses so they can avoid left hand turns all together. Some of the bus companies I’ve litigated injury cases against over the years, like Greyhound and UPS, now even have computerized bus routes so drivers can avoid left turns when possible.

But as  I teach lawyers who litigate commercial motor vehicle cases and bus accident cases, there’s really is no such thing  as a “blind spot accident.” To even use the term “blind spot” as a plaintiff attorney, you’re playing the defense’s game.  Yes, there are blind spots, but bus drivers are taught to know where they are and to detect objects ahead of time before they fall into these blind spots. They do this by looking, and by using their mirrors. And if they keep scanning ahead as required by the CDL manual, then no child, no adult or no bicyclist should be falling into the blind spot.

As a plaintiff lawyer, it’s important not to focus on the second or two of the tragic accident, but to focus on the moments leading up to it. If you do this, there’s really never an excuse for a bus driver not being prepared and hitting a person or object in his or her blind spot.

How the school bus industry combats blind spot accidents

A common solution in the school bus industry is to use a mirror grid, as shown in the photos below.

bus mirrors 1
Bus mirrors 2

Bus mirrors 3

Bus mirrors 4

Bus crossover mirrors

With a bus or truck adequately equipped with mirrors that are properly adjusted, the only blind spot should be directly behind the bus/truck. And with some buses, there’s a rear window allowing for better rear visibility and a rear view mirror.

With proper space management techniques, the driver should also know if a vehicle, pedestrian or child  has entered the space around the vehicle.

GOAL: Get out and look!

Before backing up, the driver should remember GOAL (get out and look), though ground guides are preferred.

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. And in some cities, such as Detroit, the numbers of bus accident injuries is simply shocking.

Still, bus accidents caused by improperly adjusted mirrors are easy to avoid. It only takes a minute to check for proper adjustment and a split second to actually look.

Related information:

Scary secret from a bus driver: The deadly blind spot on transit buses 

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