The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the school bus driver’s failure to follow standard rail crossing safety procedures was the probable cause of the March 28, 2000, grade crossing tragedy that claimed the lives of three Georgia schoolchildren.
In its final report, the NTSB said driver Rhonda Cloer failed to stop the bus before crossing the railroad tracks. As a result, the bus was rammed by a CSX freight train traveling approximately 50 mph. Seven children were aboard the bus. Of the four who survived, three were seriously injured and one suffered only minor injuries. Cloer also was seriously injured.
In addition to not stopping at the rail crossing, the NTSB reported that Cloer might not have heard the train because she had the radio on.
An additional factor in the crash was the school district’s failure to monitor the performance of its drivers. The NTSB reported that Murray County School District, which employed Cloer, did not identify or correct improper behavior. Cloer reportedly failed to stop at the rail crossing at least eight times before the day of the fatal incident, based on video provided by the camera in her bus.
The NTSB report suggested that a stop sign placed at the crossing might have prevented the accident. (In the wake of the crash, flashing warning lights and a gate have been added to the crossing, which only had crossbucks at the time of the crash.)
The NTSB also said the school district was deficient in its school bus route planning, failing to identify hazards on routes and to eliminate the necessity of crossing railroad tracks.
In its final report, the NTSB issued a series of safety recommendations.
To the states:
In cooperation with the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), develop and implement initiatives for passive grade crossings and school buses that includes installation of stop signs and enhanced driver training and evaluation, including review of onboard videotape when available.
To the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
Implement a rulemaking to prohibit radio speakers used for music or entertainment from being placed adjacent to drivers’ heads.
Evaluate the feasibility of incorporating automatic crash notification systems on school buses and, if feasible, proceed with system development.
Encourage the association’s members to use the Federal Railroad Administration’s Web-based accident prediction system or the states’ hazard indexes for grade crossings when developing school bus routes and to notify members of how and why the driver’s lap-shoulder belt tore in this accident and of the potential consequences of large longitudinal distances between lap-shoulder belt anchor points.
To school bus manufacturers:
Discontinue the installation of radio speakers used for music or entertainment near the driver’s head.
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