Loss Control Warning: Truck Rear-Ends Stopped School Bus

How the Incident Occurred

As he crested a hill on two-lane rural state highway on a September afternoon, the driver of a small non-CDL delivery van observed a yellow school bus stopped in the road up ahead with flashers on offloading grade school students at a bus stop. With traffic stopped in the oncoming lane and a guardrail blocking the right, he had no escape route as he applied his brakes hard leaving 50’ of skid marks before slamming into the rear of the bus. There were numerous witnesses to the collision as several parents and neighbors were waiting at the stop to pick up their children.

Injury/Damage Information

Fortunately there were no life threatening injuries, although two dozen students were transported for medical treatment with five being kept overnight for observation. The school bus and the delivery van were both total losses. There was no fuel spill or a fire. Both the school bus driver and the deliver truck driver were given and passed D&A testing. This event garnered considerable media attention with negative implications for the trucking company. Lawsuits were still pending as of this writing, primarily for trauma related injury sustained as result of negligence on the truck driver and delivery company.

Compliance

Since the delivery driver was not CDL licensed, the D&A testing was done under company safety policy guidelines and not under FMCSR 382. The delivery van was in excess of 10,001 lbs. GVW so this accident was DOT recordable (injury, vehicle towed from scene). The driver was terminated for causing a major preventable collision as defined under company safety policy. He had two prior speeding violations.

Causative factors

The skid marks evidenced that the brakes were functioning properly and vehicle maintenance was ruled out after the unit was released by DOT. In a post accident interview, the driver indicated he had been following the school bus for at least a mile but had lost sight of it when he stopped to wait at a traffic light. He admitted that he had been rushing to make up time, having to backtrack after being given the wrong delivery address at a previous stop. Outside of his normal delivery route and trying to make up time, he was also not familiar with this particular section of road and did not realize there was a bus stop up ahead until it was too late. Further investigation revealed that the incorrect delivery address was an administrative coding error and the company had no pre-trip inspection procedures or training in place for route planning to check paperwork for accuracy.

Remedial actions

  • Conduct regular driver safety training to include these defensive driving steps:
    • Get the big picture (Think outside of the box – "what if?")
      • Emphasize situational awareness
      • In sports, defenses anticipate "what if the ball comes to me?"
  • Expand look-ahead capacity (Aim high!)
    • Perception + Reaction time = 1.5 seconds = 121’ at 55 mph
    • = 1/3 of football field including end zones - before brakes applied!
  • Plan an escape route (Leave Yourself an Out!)
    • Allow adequate stopping distance
    • Scan your mirrors every 3 – 5 seconds
  • Signal Your Intentions Early (Communicate With Other Drivers!)
    • Allow other drivers to anticipate and react to your driving decisions
    • Panic maneuvers are result of failure to plan and anticipate
  • Take Decisive Action (Decide your actions in advance!)

    • Learn not to second guess your decisions, trust your instincts
    • Driving is a "con" game – work hard and developing your driving skills and have confidence, but don’t become over-confident.
  • Conduct annual safety training to create situational awareness during various times of the year. Include operations in all training and safety communications:

    • Back to School
    • Motorcycle Season
    • Holidays
    • Inclement Weather
    • Mountain Driving
    • Night Driving
  • Review, develop and refine company pre-trip inspection process.

    • Driver inspections should include verification of delivery paperwork, routes and dispatch instructions.
  • Hold operations and dispatch accountable for procedural errors and collisions involving drivers under their dispatch.