Highway Accident Report

Adopted: September 8, 1971
CHARTERED BUS CRASH ON
U.S. ROUTE 22 (INTERSTATE 78),
NEAR NEW SMITHVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA
JULY 15, 1970

NTSB Number: HAR-71/08
NTIS Number: PB-204473


SYNOPSIS

About 1:55 p.m., July 15, 1970, a chartered tour bus carrying a group of young people, aged 10 to 17, and counselors on a sightseeing trip was westbound on U.S. 22 (interstate 78, four lanes, limited access) about 12 miles west of Allentown, Pennsylvania, at a speed of (about) 55 miles per hour. A light rain was falling and had been preceded by a heavy shower.
While it was on a 2 degree curve to the right, just east of the Berks-Lehigh County line, the bus started to slide on the wet highway, then rotated 180 degrees clockwise through the guardrail and off the northern embankment. It overturned at the bottom of the embankment, ejecting 18 persons and pinning six of them under the left side of the bus. Seven children were fatally injured. No fire ensued.

The highway at the accident site when wet was found to have a skid number lower than the minimum recommended by Federal Highway Administration, and improper drainage resulting from inadequate maintenance of the median. It had a significantly high accident record involving skidding and loss of vehicle control. After the crash, a dramatic reduction in accidents resulted from the surface grooving, grading and paving of the median and shoulders, and replacement of the cable-type guardrail with a W-beam type.

The two left-rear tires of the bus were smooth; all others had adequate tread. Steering-system damage, found after the crash, could not be positively established as being pre-crash, in-crash, or post-crash induced.
The driver, a 45-year-old male, had a poor health history and a substantial record of traffic violations and accidents, but no specific health factor or driving error was involved in this crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was either dynamic or viscous hydroplaning of the front wheels of the bus which initiated a skid from which the driver could not recover. Contributing factors included low basic skid resistance of the pavement in wet weather, and the probable presence of water draining across the pavement in an abnormal manner. The fatalities and injuries were caused by an ineffective highway guardrail which failed to prevent the bus from rolling down an embankment, by bus windows, which failed to prevent ejection of some passengers, and in some cases, by the absence of occupant restraints.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The National Transportation Safety Board has directed recommendations to the State of Pennsylvania, dated July 22, 1970, which are shown in Appendix F. The Safety Board further recommends that:

1. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) initiate a program to standardize the determination of wet highway skid resistance criteria, and to define a specific "skid number" below which surface (and other needed) improvement must be made, to prevent accidents at locations having substandard skid numbers; or use of the highway be suspended; or specific speed controls be instituted. FHWA approved remedies should be made available to the States in conjunction with FHWA financial assistance in their implementation.

2. The FHWA, in conjunction with the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO), initiate a program of testing highway guardrails with a view to establishing standards for guardrails to contain or deflect large or heavy vehicles, such as trucks or buses, under a defined range of accident-impact conditions.

3. The Department of Transportation, in full recognition of the existing limitations on the scope of services renderable by the Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety, FHWA, because of manpower limitations, seek authorization and appropriations from the Congress to expand the strength and operations of said Bureau to enable it to provide the level of supervisory and inspections service over interstate chartered buses and charter-bus operations necessary to assure a level of safety commensurate with the public's right to safe travel in chartered vehicles. Not withstanding any extended delay in attaining a level of greater manpower and service capabilities, the Bureau should take all immediate steps necessary to serve copies of existing Motor Carrier Safety Regulations on all known interstate charter-bus operators and companies, including those operating in the so-called "commercial zones" and municipalities.

4. The several States with the assistance of the Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety (BMCS), of FHWA, and the National Association of Motor Bus Owners (NAMBO) jointly develop and institute programs to establish uniform guides and procedures for promoting safety in intrastate chartered buses and charter bus operations, including the designation of State oversight responsibility.

5. The New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles (and all States not now doing so) expedite action to bring State driver licensing requirements and procedures into full conformance with the Highway Safety Program Standards promulgated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

6. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (Penn-DOT) review the priority status of the extraordinarily effective highway improvements made after this accident to U.S. Route 22 (1-78), to determine whether some or all of those methods should not be given higher status in relation to other possible highway improvements.

7. The American Association of State Highway officials recognizing the importance of proper highway drainage in preventing or minimizing the opportunities for vehicle "hydroplaning," emphasize to all its members the need to provide aggressive inspection and maintenance of median and shoulder drainage systems, and to keep debris, vegetation, and erosion from rendering drainage systems ineffective.

8. FHWA take positive steps toward making available to the bus-traveling public convenient restraints against being ejected from their seats in a crash or rollover, such as are available to motorists and to airline passengers, so that bus passengers will not be denied their rightful opportunity to employ them whenever they so desire. (This recommendation, with similar intent but varying in language has been made in four prior interstate bus crash reports issued by the Safety Board.).

9. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expedite its rulemaking procedures relating to Docket 2-10, "Bus Window Retention and Release," advance notice of proposed rulemaking of which was first issued October 14, 1967 in order to make its contents a mandatory standard at the earliest possible date.

10. The National Highway Traffic Review Administration and the Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety, FHWA, review the Safety Board's Recommendation No. 6 in its Highway Accident Report SS-H-5. "Chartered Interstate Bus Crash Interstate Route 1-80S, near Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, December 26, 1968," which recommendation the Board now reiterates, relating to the question of whether there is need for an indicator to show the direction of heading of the front wheels, and necessary steering-wheel movement, in recovering from emergency situations.