Big Rig Sideswipes New Jersey School Bus on I-78 in Pennsylvania
For the students, the day was supposed to be an end of the year trip to celebrate their accomplishments. Many of the students, seniors at a New Jersey high school, were probably looking for a fun-filled day with friends and classmates before the end of the school year and growing apart in college. Unfortunately, this experience was not in the cards for the students. Their trip was affected by a serious crash with a Fed Ex truck on Route 78 in Pennsylvania before they could reach their destination at Dorney Park. While some of the students did proceed to the park, the experience of this accident will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on their psyches.
Crashes involving large vehicles and high speeds often produce serious, life-threatening injuries. This is due to the fact that large vehicles, like 18-wheelers and other commercial trucks, have incredibly high masses and weights. The high mass of the vehicle combined with high speeds of travel means that extremely violent forces act on vehicle occupants. Furthermore, the height and weight of commercial trucks mean that they can tip and overturn when in an accident. This can potentially crush the occupants of the other vehicle in secondary impacts.
Thankfully, the injuries reported in this crash appear to be minimal or otherwise non-life threatening. However, the circumstances surrounding the accident do raise serious safety concerns that affect children riding school buses and all motorists who share the road with commercial trucks.
How did the Bus and Truck Accident Occur?
According to news reports, the accident occurred at roughly 10:30 a.m. while the school bus and Fed Ex truck were traveling westbound on I-78 near Route 33 in Lower Saucon Township, Pennsylvania. The bus was apparently experiencing mechanical problems with the engine as it attempted to climb a hill on the highway. Due to the engine problems, the bus began to slow down while in the middle lane. The bus attempted to pull over to the side of the road to address the problems but the driver was unable to do so.
Unfortunately, the driver of a Fed Ex truck traveling at high speeds in the right lane of the highway did not see the disabled bus or its attempt to pull to the side of the road. Other reports seem to indicate that the truck driver attempted to get around the bus without slowing down or giving way reacting only at the last possible moment. In any case, the truck sideswiped the bus. The Fed Ex tractor-trailer then careened out of control after the initial impact. The out-of-control truck struck a third vehicle, a tanker truck, in a secondary collision.
Five students and the driver of the bus and Fed Ex truck were taken to St. Luke’s University Hospital in Fountain Hill after the crash. I-78 was closed for roughly two hours after the accident to permit the police to conduct an investigation into the accident.
Truck and Bus Crash Raises Questions About Highway Safety
A number of factors that contributed to this crash raise questions about the safety of vehicles that travel at high speeds on major highways like I-78. To start, the mechanical problems experienced by the bus are a cause for concern. One would be interested in seeing when the bus had last undergone an inspection, preventative maintenance, or if the problems with the engine were known to the driver or bus company. While facts in this accident are still unknown, in today’s world, it is not uncommon for companies to defer maintenance on vehicles in their fleet until an accident or incident forces the company to make repairs.
Aside from the bus’s mechanical issues, the actions of the Fed Ex truck driver also raises questions. To start, did the driver fail to see the bus until the last moment? If so, what was the cause of the driver waiting until the last minute to attempt to avoid the bus? Was the driver distracted behind the wheel? While FMCSA regulations prohibit commercial drivers from using electronic devices while behind the wheel, the rule is undoubtedly broken by many drivers.
In the alternative, perhaps the driver was simply fatigued. FMCSA regulations set forth hours of service limits, but these limits are rather liberal and, even still, commercial drivers sometimes fail to keep logs or falsify logs to drive greater distances and make their scheduled deliveries. A further area of inquiry would be to assess whether the Fed Ex driver had a disqualifying medical condition, like sleep apnea, that caused him to lose consciousness or concentration behind the wheel. A recent CBS News This Morning report sheds light on the fact that some commercial drivers may be misrepresenting their health or failing to disclose disqualifying conditions to preserve their medical fitness and ability to drive.
In any case, it is not currently known what caused the driver of the Fed Ex truck to wait until the last moment to avoid the school bus. Hopefully, the police investigation will shed more light on the factors that led to this frightening highway crash.