In a follow up to our blog “Fatal Bus Accident Under Federal Investigation” earlier this week, the tour bus industry was rocked again after a second fatal accident occurred, this time on the New Jersey Turnpike on March 14, 2011. In the second accident, a bus operated by Super Luxury Tours crashed after it went onto the grassy median and struck a concrete support for an overpass. The bus was traveling from Chinatown to Philadelphia. The 50 year old driver, Wei Wang, who was not wearing his seat belt as required by statute, was thrown through the windshield and died, as did one 20 year old passenger. 41 other passengers were hospitalized subsequent to the accident. This follows the March 12, 2011 accident on I-95 in the Bronx in which 15 people died when a bus driven by Ophadell Williams rolled onto its side and struck a road sign stanchion. Investigation has revealed that the 40 year old Williams was driving with a suspended license, and had previously been convicted for manslaughter and theft.
Federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have conducted an initial interview of Mr. Williams, who claimed that the bus was clipped by a tractor trailer, causing him to lose control of the bus and causing the horrific accident. Investigators are examining both the bus and the tractor trailer to determine if there is any damage to either vehicle substantiating Mr. Williams’ version of events. Allegedly, witnesses have given statements that the bus had been veering onto the shoulder of the road on several occasions prior to the accident, leading to speculation that Mr. Williams was falling asleep at the wheel before the accident happened. Federal and state investigators questioned Mr. Williams as length about how much sleep he had both prior to and during the overnight trip to draw conclusions as to whether fatigue was a factor in the accident.
Under regulations in place enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees the tour bus industry, Williams should not have been driving for more than 10 hours during a 15 hour workday. Legislators including U.S. Senator Charles Schumer have called the safety guidelines inadequate, including the fact that rules are often enforced by roadside inspections carried out by state officials on a random basis.
Another questionable safety practice is that only the driver must be seat belted, and tour buses are generally not equipped with seat belts for passengers. The NTSB is studying whether having seat belts would have reduced the number of fatalities in the I-95 crash that claimed 15 lives. It is also looking at whether new technologies such as a warning system to alert the driver that he is veering off the road or heading for an obstacle would have made any difference.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website (FMCSA), Super Luxury Tours, the operator of the bus in the NJ Turnpike accident, had one of the worst safety records, faring worse than 99.6 similar companies in the unsafe driving category. World Wide Tours, the operator of the bus in the March 12th I-95 accident, was rated almost right in the middle of all similar companies, with 52.6 operators having a better safety record regarding driver fatigue.
Contact the Westchester County Truck Accident Attorneys at the White Plains, New York Law Office Of Mark A. Siesel online, or toll free at 888-761-7633 if you are injured in a car accident, bus accident, in a slip and fall, or due to a dangerous product or medication, for a free consultation with an experienced trial attorney to discuss your case in detail.