California has had more than its share of devastating bus accidents in recent years. Many of these crashes have resulted in multiple fatalities. Sadly, another fatal accident added to those statistics earlier this week.
According to news sources, a Greyhound bus traveling between Los Angeles and the Bay Area overturned on the highway in the early morning hours of January 19. The single-vehicle accident, which happened near San Jose, caused the deaths of two of the bus' 20 passengers. Other passengers and the driver suffered injuries.
Although the crash is still under investigation, there is reason to suspect that driver fatigue either caused or contributed to the accident. Some of the surviving passengers told authorities and the bus driver was noticeably tired in the hour or so leading up to the wreck. When questioned, the 58-year-old bus driver did admit to being "fatigued."
If fatigue was the cause, it certainly wouldn't be first accident of its kind. The Department of Transportation estimates that fatigue is a factor in about 3 percent of fatal crashes annually on U.S. roads. The rate is much higher for commercial drivers. In 2006 and 2007, driver fatigue was to blame for about 13 percent of bus accidents and truck accidents. Both of these statistics may be conservative, because it is not always possible to prove fatigue in the aftermath of a crash.
Commercial drivers tend to be at a higher risk for driver fatigue for a number of reasons (other than the fact that they spend more hours on the road than most other drivers). First, commercial driving often involves shift work. Working at varying hours of day and night can easily throw off a person's circadian rhythm. Even if they sleep prior to a shift, that sleep is usually less restful than if they slept at the same time each night.
Second, commercial drivers are often forced to put economic concerns ahead of safety. Most truck drivers are only paid for the miles they travel and/or the time spent behind the wheel. Any time they spend sleeping (or waiting for cargo to be loaded/unloaded) is time they don't get paid for. Bus drivers often work long shifts, and many do not have access to perks like overtime pay. Therefore, making ends meet often requires driving as many hours as possible.
Commercial vehicle accidents are too often dismissed as simply the cost of doing business. But whether the accident was caused by a negligent driver or systemic problems that contribute to fatigue, these accidents are nonetheless avoidable. And there is no excuse for allowing them to continue.