Using the fundamental laws of physics, a team of biomechanical engineers at Hayes+Associates, Inc. (H+A), concluded that the fatalities and injuries that had resulted from a 2014 commercial bus crash would have been avoided or reduced in severity by the use of seat belts.
In the early hours of May 21, 2014, an interstate bus traveling westbound on I-10 near Blythe, CA, went off road and rolled one-quarter turn onto its right side, resulting in five deaths and injuries to 30 passengers, including an 11-day old infant. Most of the injuries were caused by a fall from one side of the bus to the other.
Hayes+Associates was retained by attorney David R. Lira of the Los Angeles firm Girardi I Keese (http://www.girardikeese.com) on behalf of a multi-firm, Plaintiff’s committee of attorneys representing the passengers.
Led by Senior Engineer, Erik D. Power, P.E., with testimony provided by CEO Wilson C. “Toby” Hayes, Ph.D., the H+A team analyzed what caused the injuries and fatalities in the actual crash and what would have happened had lap-shoulder belts been available. David King, P.E., and his team at MEA Forensic, Inc. (https://meaforensic.com), was retained by the Plaintiffs to analyze the off road motion and rollover of the bus.
The H+A report concluded: “For the fatally injured passengers who died acutely as a consequence of the rollover, the failure on the part of the manufacturer to provide three-point restraints was the direct and proximate cause of their acute and fatal injuries. Had three-point restraints been in use, these passengers would not have died or sustained serious injuries,”
A recent New York Times article about bus and train passenger safety describes serious crashes as rare but particularly injurious because passengers and their personal items are not secured by seat belts or enclosed storage.
(https://www.nyt.com/2019/04/08/business/amtrak-greyhound-safety-bus-train.html) When a bus abruptly slows or stops, unrestrained passengers continue to travel at the vehicle’s original velocity, even, at times, to the point of ejection from the bus, resulting in injury and death.
The Times interviewed T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, recently retired from the National Transportation Safety Board, concerning the 44 people who had died in bus crashes in 2017: “Those 44 people could have been saved. In some cases, just simply wearing their seat belt would have saved them from being severely injured and then dying from those injuries, or being ejected and killed.” H+A findings in the MCI bus rollover case comport with the New York Times article.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has long recommended lap-shoulder restraints in commercial and school buses. Despite their effectiveness and strong recommendations from NTSB for their use, seat belts are not mandatory in most buses. Opponents of seat belts in buses object to the cost of installation and the inability of drivers or companies to enforce their use.
By using simple physics calculations to analyze complex injuries and even deaths, the H+A team believes it has provided a powerful and generally applicable tool for the analysis and prevention of occupant injuries in bus rollovers that are comparable to the Blythe incident. That simple physics could accurately reflect what happened to passengers in the real crash provides confidence in the predictions as to how much seat belts would have helped.
It is hoped that a case like the Blythe bus crash will awaken the public to the need for seat belts in commercial and school buses. “Litigation,” Hayes maintains, “is one approach to effect change in a culture that is sometimes highly resistant to it.”
With contributions by the Hayes+Associates biomechanical analysis, the MCI bus rollover case settled prior to trial for an undisclosed amount.
Hayes+Associates, Inc. (http://www.hayesassoc.com) is an expert witness and consulting firm based in Corvallis, OR. The company brings more than 75 years of collective experience in academic research, university teaching, and forensic testimony to practice areas that include vehicle collisions, premises safety, slips and falls, products liability, worker safety, sports and recreation, patent litigation and criminal matters.