Highway Accident Report

Motorcoach Median
Crossover and Collision
With Sport Utility Vehicle
Hewitt, Texas
February 14, 2003

NTSB Number HAR-05/02
NTIS Number PB2005-916202
PDF Document(1.7 MB)


Executive Summary:

On February 14, 2003, about 9:59 a.m., central standard time, a 1996 Dina Viaggio motorcoach, operated by Central Texas Trails, Inc., and occupied by a driver and 34 passengers, was traveling northbound on Interstate 35 near Hewitt, Texas. The weather was overcast with reduced visibility due to fog, haze, and heavy rain. As the motorcoach approached the crest of a hill, the bus driver said he observed brake lights ahead of him and began to brake lightly. The bus driver said that as he moved from the right lane into the left lane, another vehicle ahead of the bus also moved over, so he braked harder and the rear of the bus skidded. The bus driver was unable to maintain control of the bus as it departed the left side of the roadway, crossed the grassy median, entered the southbound lanes, and collided with a 2002 Chevrolet Suburban sport utility vehicle (Suburban) occupied by a driver and two passengers. The right mirror of a southbound 1996 Chevrolet C1500 Z71 pickup truck, occupied by a driver, was also struck by the motorcoach. The motorcoach then overturned on its right side, rotated, and slid to final rest facing south against a concrete embankment on the side of the road. The Suburban rotated 180 degrees, began to climb the embankment, slid back down, and came to rest facing north and against the roof of the bus.

Five motorcoach passengers, the Suburban driver, and one Suburban passenger sustained fatal injuries. The bus driver sustained serious injuries; the remaining passengers on the bus and in the Suburban sustained injuries ranging from minor to serious. The pickup truck driver was not injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was Texas’s decision to set a speed limit on Interstate 35, in the vicinity of the accident, that did not take into account the roadway’s limited sight distance or its poor conditions in wet weather; as a result, the bus driver was unable to detect the stopped vehicles as he approached the traffic queue and lost control of the motorcoach due to low pavement friction. Exacerbating the poor roadway conditions were the minimum tread depths on the motorcoach’s drive axle tires and differing tread depths on its front and rear tires, both of which were allowed under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations but reduced the friction available to the motorcoach. Contributing to the severity of the accident were the lack of a temporary or permanent median barrier, which might have redirected the motorcoach or reduced the speed at which it crossed the median into the southbound lanes, and the lack of an occupant protection system for the motorcoach passengers.

Major safety issues identified in this accident include:

As a result of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes recommendations to the Federal Highway Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the Texas Department of Transportation.