NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


NTSB DETERMINES BUS DRIVER FELL ASLEEP, CITES DRIVER'S DELIBERATE FAILURE TO GET ADEQUATE REST

June 22, 2004

Washington, D. C. - In a report adopted today the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the driver of an Arrow Line, Inc. motorcoach fell asleep while driving due to his deliberate failure to get adequate rest during his off- duty hours. The accident occurred on Interstate 90 near Victor, New York on June 23, 2002 when the severely fatigued driver fell asleep and the bus ran off the road, vaulted over an entrance ramp, landed, and rolled onto its side. Five passengers on the bus were killed.

The report listed several factors contributing to the accident, including a second Arrow Line, Inc. motorcoach driver who, knowing that the driver was severely fatigued, did nothing to stop him from driving; inadequate oversight of drivers by Arrow Line, Inc and its holding company, Coach USA; and the lack of occupant protection for motorcoach passengers. "The tragic circumstances of this accident underscore how critical it is that every person in our transportation system be 100% committed to safety," said NTSB Chairman Ellen Engleman Conners. "Do not operate a vehicle if you are tired and do not allow someone who is tired to get behind the wheel."

The accident bus was one of two Arrow Line, Inc. buses chartered to take groups from Westbury, Connecticut to Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada that weekend. During the investigation the Safety Board learned that the accident driver arrived in Niagara Falls around 7:30 am on Friday, June 21 and was in a local casino from approximately noon on Friday until 10:00 am on Saturday when he returned to his room but did not sleep. He went back to the casino around 4:00 pm on Saturday where he remained until approximately 9:00 am Sunday. Both Arrow Line motorcoaches departed for the return trip about three and a half hours later.

Prior to departure from Niagara Falls, the trip coordinator and several passengers expressed concern over the accident driver's visible fatigue. As part of its oversight program, Coach USA contracted with Driver's Alert, a Florida-based company, to operate a complaint and compliment tracking service but no calls to Driver's Alert were made regarding the accident bus just prior to the accident. The Driver's Alert call number was displayed on the exterior of the bus, however the number was not displayed on the inside of the bus for passengers who might have safety concerns about their driver. As a result the Board recommended that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) require the posting of an emergency telephone number on the interior of motorcoaches. The Board also made a recommendation to Coach USA that all calls reporting dangerous driver behavior be evaluated immediately and that a method be established to contact the driver upon receiving a complaint.

The report cited the second Arrow Line bus driver for his failure to attempt to stop the accident driver from operating the vehicle despite his knowledge that the accident driver had not had significant sleep in the two days preceding the accident as well as passenger complaints that the accident driver did not appear fit to drive. The investigation further determined that Arrow Line, Inc. had a history of failing to adequately oversee operational safety issues, as well as recognize and correct inherent safety problems.

In an examination of the federal oversight of Arrow Line, Inc, the Board found that in 1994 Arrow was placed on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Motor Carriers "Top 500 Worst Carriers List." As a result, the FMCSA conducted a compliance review and Arrow received a "Conditional" rating for failure to comply with federal regulations. Compliance reviews for Arrow dating back to 1983 reveal that the Office of Motor Carriers had repeatedly informed Arrow of numerous violations but never gave Arrow an "Unsatisfactory" rating because the structure of the safety rating system gives non safety-specific practices the same weight as vehicle inspections and driver performance.

Based on the Board's review of the FMCSA's motor carrier safety rating system the report concluded that the current FMCSA compliance review process does not effectively identify unsafe motorcoach operators and prevent them from operating. In addition, the U.S. Department of Defense Surface Deployment and Distribution Command had conducted compliance audit reviews of Arrow and had found numerous safety deficiencies; however, this information was not exchanged with the FMCSA nor is there a requirement to share such information. The Board's report concluded that if the FMCSA had been alerted to the safety problems with Arrow by the Department of Defense's audit report, the FMCSA might have prioritized Arrow for further review. The Board recommended that the FMCSA utilize motor carrier safety information including compliance audit reports provided by the U.S. Department of Defense Surface Deployment and Distribution Command to determine whether further review of a carrier is warranted.

In a final conclusion the report determined that the lack of motorcoach occupant protection systems designed to restrain passengers in the seating compartments contributed to the passenger ejections resulting in serious and fatal injuries. The Board reiterated recommendations H-99-47 and H-99-48 asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop performance standards for motorcoach occupant protection systems and then require newly manufactured motorcoaches to have an occupant protection system that meets the newly developed standards.

A synopsis of the accident investigation report, including the findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations, can be found on the Publications page of the Board's web site, www.ntsb.gov. The complete report will be available in about six weeks.

NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100

 

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.