November 13, 2017
Aerial view shows motorcoach at final rest and impact damage caused by signpost penetrating two-thirds of vehicle. Photo: California Highway Patrol
In the wake of its investigation of a crash caused by a fatigued motorcoach driver, the National Transportation Safety Board reiterated its call for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to change its motor carrier safety rating system to ensure carriers with serious safety issues either mitigate those risks or be placed out of service.
While the board’s recommendations primarily apply to passenger-carrying carriers, some of them would likely affect freight carriers as well.
A sleep-deprived driver operating a motorcoach during early morning hours on a California highway caused a crash that killed four of the 24 passengers, NTSB said in a report released Nov. 13.
A motorcoach operated by Fresno-based Autobuses Coordinados USA Inc., traveling from Los Angeles to Modesto on State Route 99, drifted out of its travel lanes, striking a barrier system and a highway signpost shortly after 3 a.m., Aug. 2, 2016, near Livingston, California. The crash forces resulted in the signpost entering the passenger compartment and tearing through almost the entire length of the vehicle. The surviving passengers received serious-to-minor injuries.
Investigators determined the driver, who was seriously injured, had only about five hours of opportunity for sleep in the 40 hours preceding the crash, leaving him in a state of “acute sleep loss” at the time of the crash. There were no tire marks or other indication the driver took any action to avoid the barrier after the motorcoach drifted out of its travel lane.
According to FMCSA records, Autobuses Coordinados vehicles failed eight of 29 federal inspections in just under two years, pushing its out-of-service rate to 38%, almost five times greater than the national average of 8%.
NTSB determined that inadequate safety practices of Autobuses Coordinados and the FMCSA’s lack of oversight contributed to the crash. As a result, the board reiterated two earlier recommendations it has made to the agency:
- Change your safety fitness rating methodology so that adverse vehicle or driver performance-based data alone are sufficient to result in an overall unsatisfactory rating for the carrier.
- Include safety measurement system rating scores in the methodology used to determine a carrier’s fitness to operate in the safety fitness rating rulemaking for the Compliance, Safety, Accountability initiative.
The FMCSA recently dropped its safety fitness rating rulemaking proposal. The now-withdrawn proposal on methodology would have determined when a motor carrier is not fit to operate trucks based on the carrier’s on-road safety data; an investigation; or a combination of on-road safety data and investigation information.
NTSB does not have any regulatory-making authority. It investigates crashes and makes recommendations to various governmental agencies, industry associations and other groups to try to prevent similar crashes in the future.
The NTSB also determined that the guardrail, which did not prevent the motorcoach from colliding with the signpost, and was not designed to do so, contributed to the severity of the crash.
The NTSB also issued two new recommendations aimed at developing risk-based guidelines to determine where high-performance barrier systems should be installed to shield heavy vehicles from roadside obstacles and hazards.