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Are NJ’s School Buses as Safe as They Can Be? [AUDIO]

Yesterday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) presented a report following its probe into a New Jersey school bus crash that killed an 11-year-old girl and left 15 students injured.

School bus accident in Chesterfield in 2012
School bus accident in Chesterfield in 2012 (Brian McCarthy)

The board released results of its investigation and recommendations. A key finding is that the driver of the bus in last year’s crash would’ve been barred from transporting students if he had properly disclosed his medical condition.

On February 16, 2012, a school bus carrying 25 students was traveling northbound on a Burlington County road in Chesterfield through an intersection.

At the same time, a full loaded dump truck was traveling east approaching the same intersection. As the school bus went through the intersection, the truck collided with the left rear of the bus. The crash killed one student on the school bus. Five students were seriously injured, 10 students and the bus driver sustained minor injuries, and nine students were uninjured. The truck driver was not injured.

According to investigators, the bus driver should have been able to see the truck heading his way, but officials believe fatigue and the sedatives he was taking may have played a part in his not being able to realize the danger of the situation.

“In about a month it’s going to be back to school for our nation’s schoolchildren (and) many of those students will be climbing aboard those bright, shiny school buses for the first time,” explains NTSB chair Deborah Hersman. “Their parents and their guardians should know that riding the bus is the safest way to get to school and to get home again….That’s the goal of our team’s work, of this report and the safety board’s existence.”

Chief among the board’s recommendations is better and proper use of school bus seat belts and there should be performance standards for new safety technology that allows vehicles to talk to each other and it should be required that the technology be installed in all new vehicles.

Investigators tell the board that it’s likely the girl who was killed in the crash, Isabelle Tezsla, wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. Injuries from the accident were reduced because some students were wearing their belts. New Jersey is one of six states that require seat belts on school buses.

According to the investigators, the dump truck that hit bus was traveling between 53 mph and 58 mph in a 45 mph zone and the braking ability of the bus was reduced because of several problems. They say a break monitoring system could have warned the driver that his brakes needed to be adjusted.

A comprehensive study of intersection safety had already been suggested and now NTSB member Robert Sumwalt is renewing that call.

“This tragic crash that we’re deliberating today is even more of a motivation to conduct such a study.” says Sumwalt. “Crashes at intersections account for 22-percent of all fatalities on public roadways (nationwide) and 49-percent of injuries….I don’t think a whole lot of assessment needs to be done. I think the numbers are screaming at us.”

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