Canada’s Transportation Safety Board has criticized the lack of crash standards for transit buses as a result of the multi-fatal Transpo bus crash in Ottawa January 11, 2019. Yet the lack of protection of bus passengers has been visible for many years without much fanfare. One only needs to look at the other multi-fatal bus crashes that have occurred around the world. While it is being publicized as a possible specific problem with the design of the Transpo bus the fact is that the combination of the large mass, large volume and the relative weak structure makes essentially all inter-city buses vulnerable to multiple death occurrences. This is combined with the obvious incompatible roadside infrastructure. It should not take much thought to look at the vicinity of where the Transpo bus was travelling in the Ottawa crash that the overhanging roof of the bus shelter was not compatible with the height of the double-decker bus. The problem was just waiting for a bus driver to make a critical error.
Incompatible infrastructure is obvious in many inter-city bus collisions. One that was similar to the Ottawa collision occurred on March 12, 2011 as a World Wide Tours bus rolled onto its side after it struck a low guardrail on I-95 in New York. The rollover exposed the window and roof areas to an immovable stanchion. This resulted in the roof being peeled to the very back of the bus resulting in 15 fatalities. While the orientation of the bus was different in the two cases the application of the force above the stiffer lower structure was similar.The U.S.National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the collision. One of several safety issues that the NTSB highlighted in their report of June 5, 2012 read as follows:
“Roadside barriers for heavy commercial passenger vehicles: The NTSB evaluated roadside conditions at the accident site to determine the guardrail characteristics necessary to shield the vertical highway signpost. Examination of available research and testing methods for barriers reveals that guidance given to the states on upgrading barrier systems is inadequate. In addition, there is a clear need nationwide for higher performance traffic barriers to redirect heavy commercial vehicles and motorcoaches. New barrier performance standards are needed along with, possibly, new barrier designs with height and deflection characteristics capable of safely redirecting heavy commercial passenger vehicles from point hazards.”
Again, this is not surprising. All heavy vehicles experience similar problems. While most barriers can properly interact with smaller vehicles there has never been a willingness to admit that a problem exists with larger ones.
A number of other multi-fatal bus crashes have occurred since then including a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team which was involved in a crash on a Saskatchewan rural intersection on April 6, 2018. Although driver error was blamed for the crash an improper intersection sight triangle was also a critical factor.
Other multi-fatal bus crashes included one on December 30, 2012 bus carrying 48 occupants which struck a guardrail on I-84 near Pendleton Oregon and rolled over into a 200 foot ravine: 12 passengers died. On March 20, 2016, an intercity bus struck a guardrail and rolled through a median barrier near Freginals, Spain. The bus sustained minimal damage yet 13 of the 60 passengers were killed. There are a number of other, similar examples.
Every instance where some formal awareness of the problems encountered in intercity bus is publicized is helpful. But in the end there has to be some movement toward change.