Sherman Bus Crash – Operator Error Or Product Defect? Or Both?

As most of you already know, last Friday a fully occupied motor coach went off the road near Sherman, Texas and fell into a creek. When our team arrived at the scene, the National Transportation Safety Board had secured the bus. The scene showed ample evidence of death and destruction that had ensued the night before. Skid and gouge marks showed where the bus, carrying 54 passengers and 1 driver, had left the roadway and fell into a creek. Seventeen passengers were killed and everyone else on the bus was injured. One of the survivors later recounted the events during a press conference and stated she remembered bodies flying during the crash. The question that arises is, could the massive scale of casualties been avoided?

To answer that question one must look from a bio-mechanical viewpoint as to what the human body goes through during such an impact. Upon impact the human body is literally sent flying at a speed close to that of the bus itself pre-impact. Trauma caused by collision with other passengers, seats, interior columns of the bus, or in the worst case, contact with the roadway, usually causes death or catastrophic injury. Can the use of seatbelts prevent these types of injuries? According to studies done in this field, the answer is yes. The bus industry in the United States has taken the (disingenuous) position that using seatbelts on buses put a passenger at greater risk compared to an unbelted passenger. One rationale presented by the bus industry is that a belted passenger on a bus would cause the seat to come unhinged upon impact and send the passenger flying along with the seat, therefore causing a heavier projectile that would be more harmful to the passenger and other occupants. Another justification is that a lap belt (similar to one on a commercial airplane) would cause injuries to the lower back upon impact. Both these problems can be easily remedied: 1) By fortifying the assembly of the seats to the chassis and 2) by using a three point seat belt similar to the ones we have in our vehicles.

Many legal questions will have to be answered in the Sherman bus crash. Was the driver fatigued and in violation of hours of service rules of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration? Were any improper sized or defective tires used on the bus? Did the tires pass a safety inspection? Was the bus inspected by a manufacturer owned/approved service station? Did a third party make any representations about the quality of the operator? Was there a product defect related to the lack of seatbelts, structural integrity/crashworthiness of the bus and window glazing?

It is my experience based on being involved in the Hurricane Rita evacuation bus fire, Volvo bus crash near Victoria Texas and the recent Dina Viaggio bus crash en route from Mexico to Houston, the real answers will not be uncovered without an extensive investigation into all concerned parties.