Honorable Deborah Hersman, NTSB Board Member

Opening Statement
Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board
Washington, DC - June 5, 2012
Highway Accident Report - Motorcoach Run-Off-the-Road
and Collision with Vertical Highway Signpost
New York, NY - March 12, 2011
(As Prepared for Delivery)


Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind, and Member Earl Weener.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider two accident reports, one highway and one aviation. We begin with the report on the March 12, 2011, motorcoach accident in New York City.

At 3:48 a.m., a driver, who had arrived at the Connecticut casino just four hours earlier and who was on day four of an inverted schedule, set off from the casino on a scheduled bus route to New York City. Under two hours later, the motorcoach, which had reached speeds as high as 78 mph in the 60 seconds prior to the crash, left the travel lanes to the right, crossed over a paved shoulder, and struck a roadside barrier. Then, the bus careened nearly 500 feet as it was rolling over onto its right side. It finally collided with a large highway signpost.

The impact of that collision drove two 8-inch-diameter vertical support poles through the bus's windshield and penetrated through the passenger compartment for nearly the length of the bus.

I would like to recognize Vice Chairman Chris Hart for his excellent service as the spokesperson for the NTSB's on-scene investigative activities immediately after the crash.

As you will see shortly in the presentations, the crash was dramatic. It was deadly. Fifteen passengers died; 18 more were injured.

On behalf of my fellow Board members and the entire NTSB staff, we offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the 15 individuals who died in this tragic crash. Nothing can replace the loss of loved ones. To those who were injured, we hope you continue on your path to recovery.

Today it is our responsibility to find out what happened and to make safety recommendations to help prevent future tragedies.

For tens of thousands travelers every day, bus travel is safe. But, with their capacity for dozens of passengers, when something goes wrong, as it did in the Bronx that early March morning, the consequences can be deadly. In fact, this crash, one of three fatal U.S. bus crashes in rapid succession last year, is one of the deadliest motorcoach crashes the NTSB has investigated.

Our investigation has highlighted several serious, and recurring, safety issues in bus transportation, the nation's fastest-growing form of long-distance passenger transportation.

For years, speed has been a factor in accidents. And, we've seen in investigation after investigation, the tragic results of the degraded performance from fatigue. Together, fatigue and speed are an especially lethal combination.

For years, we have been concerned about the slow pace of implementing advanced vehicle technologies to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place. On that March morning, an advanced heavy vehicle speed limiter could have provided some protection against the reckless operation of the motorcoach.

For years, we have seen companies that operate buses without regard to safety rules, and businesses that deliberately skirt Federal safety regulations. Last year, we issued a safety study on curbside operators and last week we saw the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration take unprecedented action to shut down 26 bus operators, a number of which were curbside operators, for repeatedly and flagrantly violating safety rules. This action sends a strong message to bus operators to put safety first or get put out of business.

This deadly crash did not have to happen. Today, we will hear what happened and identify ways to prevent future tragedies.

Dr. Mayer, would you please introduce the staff.