Speed, Bad Brakes Caused Work Zone Crash

After investigating a 2005 incident in New York state in which a passenger bus struck and killed three highway construction workers, officials from the New York State Department of Health recommend that bus companies inspect buses more frequently to ensure that all parts function properly and that bus companies provide frequent training to bus drivers regarding highway work zone safety.

The department also directs several recommendations – all of which are detailed in a New York State Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) report – toward transportation administrative agencies that are responsible for designing traffic control plans on interstate highways and bridges.

The New York State Department of Health calls on these transportation agencies to consider requiring:

  • The use of protective barriers to shield workers from intruding vehicles.
  • The use of portable rumble strips/speed bumps on roads to warn drivers of highway construction work zones.
  • Reduced speed limits through work zones on highways with high traffic volume.
  • The use of law enforcement officers in cruisers at each end of large highway work zones.

As a result of the incident, the FACE report points out, the New York state Legislature passed the Work Zone Safety Act of 2005 in an effort to improve driver education, increase the accountability of drivers and create safer highway work zones.

Bus Was Carrying a Choral Group

The FACE investigation was prompted by a May 20, 2005, incident in which three male construction workers were killed when they were struck by a passenger bus inside a highway work zone. The workers were employed by a paving company that had been contracted by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) for a highway bridge repair/maintenance project on eight bridges on a major divided state highway.

According to the FACE report, the work zone was located in the southbound lane of a four-lane divided interstate highway, and the zone was demarcated by the required orange traffic cones and warning signs.

Around 10 a.m., the southbound charter bus – which was carrying a choral group – passed multiple warning signs and approached the work zone.

“At approximately 0.2 miles south of the beginning of the construction zone, the bus driver attempted to brake and move left, partially onto the east shoulder, in an attempt to avoid striking the slowing vehicles ahead,” the FACE report explains. “According to the [New York ]State Police collision reconstruction report, the bus first struck a motorcycle and then hit the curb on the east side of the bridge before returning to the southbound passing lane and striking the rear of a tractor-trailer.

“The bus was redirected in a southwest direction into the work zone, striking three victims who were working at the back of a cement truck.”

Bus Brakes Had Several Defects

According to the FACE report, NYSDOT's Passenger and Freight Safety Division inspected the bus the day after the accident and found several defects in the bus' braking system. Because of the brake defects, NYSDOT estimated that the bus had a braking capacity of 30 to 35 percent at the time of the collision.

The New York State Police Collision Reconstruction Unit estimated that the bus was going 60 to 68 mph when it struck the tractor-trailer.

“It could be reasonably assumed,” the FACE report says, “that the bus was traveling faster prior to its initial collision with the motorcycle.”

The New York State Police concluded that the primary cause of the accident was inadequate brakes and the secondary cause was speeding within the work zone.

To download, the entire FACE report, click here.

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