New Orleans, Louisiana
May 9, 1999
NTSB Number: HAR-01-01
NTIS Number: PB2001-916201
Adopted August 28, 2001
On May 9, 1999, about 9:00 a.m., a 1997 Motor Coach Industries 55-passenger motorcoach, operated by Custom Bus Charters, Incorporated, was traveling eastbound on Interstate 610 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The bus, carrying 43 passengers, was en route from La Place, Louisiana, to a casino approximately 80 miles away in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. As the bus approached milepost 1.6, it departed the right side of the highway, crossed the shoulder, and went onto the grassy side slope alongside the shoulder. The bus continued on the side slope, struck the terminal end of a guardrail, traveled through a chain-link fence, vaulted over a paved golf cart path, collided with the far side of a dirt embankment, and then bounced and slid forward upright to its final resting position. Twenty-two passengers were killed, the busdriver and 15 passengers received serious injuries, and 6 passengers received minor injuries.
The ensuing investigation established that the 46-year-old driver possessed a current commercial driver's license and medical certificate, but suffered from several life-threatening medical conditions of the kidneys and heart. A witness riding in a van behind the bus stated that before the accident, she saw the bus drifting from the left lane to the center lane, then back to the left lane, before finally crossing the center and right lanes and departing the right side of the road. These observations corresponded with the statements of a passenger, who saw the busdriver "slouch down" as if reaching for a soda and then upright himself before slouching down again. The next thing this passenger remembered was waking up in the hospital.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the driver's incapacitation due to his severe medical conditions and the failure of the medical certification process to detect and remove the driver from service. Other factors that may have had a role in the accident were the driver's fatigue and the driver's use of marijuana and a sedating antihistamine.
The following major safety issues were identified in this accident:
As a result of this accident investigation, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and the State of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. In addition, the Safety Board is reiterating recommendations from its 1999 bus crashworthiness special investigation report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
To the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:
Develop a comprehensive medical oversight program for interstate commercial drivers that contains the following program elements:
Develop a system that records all positive drug and alcohol test results and refusal determinations that are conducted under the U.S. Department of Transportation testing requirements, require prospective employers to query the system before making a hiring decision, and require certifying authorities to query the system before making a certification decision. (H-01-25)
To the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators:
Urge your member States to develop a comprehensive medical oversight program for intrastate commercial drivers that contains the following program elements:
To the National Conference of State Legislatures:
Inform State legislatures about this accident and make them aware of the importance of establishing immunity laws for the good-faith reporting of potentially impaired commercial drivers by all individuals and of ensuring that the medical community and the commercial transportation industry are familiar with these laws. (H-01-27)
To the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials:
Inform your members about the weakened guardrail conditions due to termite infestation found in this accident and urge them to perform periodic structural inspections of wooden guardrail posts. (H-01-28)
To the State of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development:
Inspect all wooden guardrail posts for structural integrity and replace those that do not meet the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials crash performance design criteria. (H-01-29)
To the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
In 2 years, develop performance standards for motorcoach occupant protection systems that account for frontal impact collisions, side impact collisions, rear impact collisions, and rollovers. (H-99-47)
Once pertinent standards have been developed for motorcoach occupant protection systems, require newly manufactured motorcoaches to have an occupant crash protection system that meets the newly developed performance standards and retains passengers, including those in child safety restraint systems, within the seating compartment throughout the accident sequence for all accident scenarios. (H-99-48)
Expand your research on current advanced glazing to include its applicability to motorcoach occupant ejection prevention, and revise window glazing requirements for newly manufactured motorcoaches based on the results of this research. (H-99-49)
In 2 years, develop performance standards for motorcoach roof strength that provide maximum survival space for all seating positions and that take into account current typical motorcoach window dimensions. (H-99-50)
Once performance standards have been developed for motorcoach roof strength, require newly manufactured motorcoaches to meet those standards. (H-99-51)