Highway Accident Report

Adopted: February 23, 1978
MARCH 8, 1977

NTSB Number: HAR-78/01
NTIS Number: PB-277990/AS


About 7:50 a.m., on March 8, 1977, a southbound tractor-semitrailer struck the rear of a stopped schoolbus on U.S. Highway 29 near Rustburg, Virginia. Three of the 33 occupants of the schoolbus died as a result of the collision. The other occupants, including the busdriver, sustained injuries ranging from bruises to fractures. The truckdriver sustained chest injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was the failure of the truckdriver, due to inattention and carelessness, to perceive and avoid the stopped schoolbus. Contributing to the accident was the stopping of the schoolbus in the traveled way of the high-speed highway, a practice of the Commonwealth of Virginia which was contrary to the provisions of Federal Highway Safety Program Standard No. 17.

Contributing to the fatalities and injuries was the lack of occupant restraints in the schoolbus which allowed one occupant to be ejected, resulting in fatal injuries, and others to be propelled into sharp or unyielding interior components.

The Board made recommendations to the Virginia State Board of Education, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety, and the Interstate Commerce Commission.


As a result of its investigation of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board made the following recommendations:

to the Virginia State Board of Education:

"Revise its schoolbus operating regulations to eliminate the procedural requirement for the stopping of schoolbuses on the main portion of a roadway when picking up or discharging passengers, and add a requirement that conforms with Highway Safety Program Standard No. 17 which calls for loading and unloading zones off the main traveled portion of the highway wherever practicable. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-78-6)

"Revise its Schoolbus Driver Training Program to place greater emphasis on defensive driving procedures as they relate to observing surrounding traffic before stopping to pick up or discharge passengers. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-78-7)"

to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

"Determine whether the States of Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina are in compliance with Highway Safety Program Standard No. 5, “Driver Licensing,” and if found not in compliance, take necessary action to encourage them to modify their programs to comply. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-78-8)

"Expand Highway Safety Program Standard No. 17, "Pupil Transportation Safety", to provide that no passengers occupy seats in either the foremost or rearmost rows of passenger seats until all other seats have been occupied. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-78-9)

"Modify Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 217 to provide for additional emergency exit points to facilitate escape from and access to schoolbuses regardless of the vehicle's attitude following a collision or overturn. Such exits shall be in addition to the current options set forth in FMVSS No. 217. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-78-10)

"Review available accident statistics involving 1975 and later model schoolbuses equipped with seating arrangements that comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 222 to determine if the specific seating, restraining barrier, and impact zone requirements for schoolbuses have reduced the injuries sustained by occupants on these schoolbuses when involved in collisions and rollovers. A report of the findings should be submitted to the National Transportation Safety Board at the earliest opportunity. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-78-11)”

to the Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety of the Federal Highway Administration:

"Revise its enforcement policy which now precludes the filing of charges against drivers and carriers in violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations unless they have previously been served with a copy of the safety regulations, to permit the filing of charges for violations under severe circumstances such as preventable, fatal highway accidents. (Class II, Priority Action) (H78-12)

"Request from the Interstate Commerce Commission the identity and categories of all current ICC-registered carriers operating in interstate commerce and of future registrants as soon as possible following their registration. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-78-13)"

to the State of North Carolina:

"Review its driver improvement program, required by Highway Safety Program Standard No. 5, to identify problem drivers and insure that such drivers are not permitted to operate commercial vehicles. (Class II, Priority Follow-up) (H-78-14)"