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Deadly Truck Crash Has Feds Examining Bus Safety Regulations

Apr 22, 2014 - Truck Accidents, Tuscaloosa by

A fiery, fatal crash involving a Fed-Ex truck and a tour bus carrying high school students has prompted at least one lawsuit so far and the launch of a federal investigation into safety regulations. bus_2

Authorities are interested in learning whether more stringent laws regarding seat belts, fire suppression systems and better windows might have prevented the crash that left 10 dead in Northern California.

Our Tuscaloosa injury lawyers know that the National Transportation Safety Board has long advocated such measures, but other federal agencies have been slow to heed that call. NTSB officials say that if there is anything to be gained from this tragedy, it could be a renewed sense of urgency in adopting safety measures to save lives.

A new rule, sought for nearly 50 years by the NTSB, does require that all new motor coaches and other large buses contain three-point lap-and-shoulder belts starting in November 2016. The bus in this crash was a brand new model, and manufacturers were on board early with the requirement. However, not all passengers were wearing them. Several who were killed died on impact after being thrown from the bus.

Still, there are many buses in rotation where passengers won’t even have that option. The new rule doesn’t require buses to be retrofitted with seat belts, after staunch opposition from the industry over costs.

With regard to the fire, officials report that some of the deceased had been charred beyond recognition. Authorities have not yet been able to determine whether they died from impact or the fire. What investigators are going to be examining is whether the materials and/or the design of these buses might somehow be altered to better withstand fires.

The government is considering a mandate for 2015 that would require all new buses to be equipped with fire suppression systems designed to suppress fires that start in wheel wells and engine compartments. They wouldn’t necessarily help with large fires that occur after collisions, but they could work automatically in some cases.

Another safety feature officials will be examining is the windows – whether they were well-labeled and easy to open. NTSB authorities have for the last 15 years been demanding tougher standards for large bus windows, calling for them to serve as emergency exits in the event of a crash. The call came after a crash in 1997 where passengers on a tour bus struggled to get out of the windows after it careened down an embankment and into a river.

As these reviews are ongoing, the mother of a 17-year-old passenger killed in the California crash has filed suit against FedEx, alleging that the company’s trucks have a known history of catching fire, and that the firm negligently failed to act to correct the situation. She is seeking $100 million in damages. It is the first of what is expected to be several lawsuits filed in the case.

Among the dead were five students, three adult chaperones and both drivers.

Additional Resources:

Feds revisit safety rules after Calif. bus crash, April 14, 2014, By Fenit Nirappil, Associated Press

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