The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) adopted its final report into the March 28, 2000 grade crossing accident involving a Murray County, Georgia, school bus and a CSX Transportation freight train in Conasauga, Tenn. Three children on the school bus were killed.
The report cited the bus driver's failure to follow proper procedures and stop prior to crossing the train tracks on Liberty Church Road as the probably cause of the crash. The board's report also noted that the driver was unable to hear the train's horn because the bus radio was on and the door remained closed. Georgia law requires that school bus drivers stop between 15 and 50 feet from a grade crossing, open the service door and left front window, and turn off any radio, fans or heaters prior to crossing.
In its investigation, the board found no performance evaluations for any of the bus drivers employed by the Murray County School District during that time. The NTSB report concluded that the school district, by failing to evaluate drivers and identify improper behavior, was lax in safeguarding its students and contributed to the accident.
Occupant kinematics simulations performed in the investigation determined that incomplete compartmentalization led to several of the serious injuries and at least one fatality. The board's report stated that the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard does not adequately address the injury potential in lateral impact collisions because it exempts sidewall components and the sides of seat frames within the passenger compartment of school buses.
As a result of this investigation, the board recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) incorporate performance standards for sidewalls and seat frames into the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and prohibit radio speakers from being placed above the driver's head in school buses. The board also asked NHTSA to evaluate the feasibility of incorporating automatic crash notification systems on school buses.
Recommendations were also issued to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the States to develop a program of initiatives for passive grade crossings that includes installation of stop signs; noise reducing switches on newly purchased and in-service buses; and enhanced school bus driver training including review of on-board video tapes where available.
The report also made a recommendation to the Georgia Department of Education to disconnect radio speakers above the bus driver's head and asked school bus manufacturers to discontinue the installation of radio speakers above the driver's head.
A copy of the report's conclusions and recommendations is available on the Safety Board's Web site (www.ntsb.gov) Publications page.
edited by Sandy Smith ([email protected])