The MTA bus crash in downtown Nashville last week puts the spotlight firmly back on bus safety here in Nashville and elsewhere in the state. We tend to think of public transport options as being inherently safer than using your own car, but are they? Is there any justification for feeling too afraid to use a bus around the city?

Nine people were injured in last week’s crash on Union Street and 8th Avenue. The two drivers, the bus driver and the car driver, were both injured as were 7 bus passengers. None of these injuries appear to be serious, although all the injured people were taken to one hospital or another for inspection of their injuries and treatment where necessary.

Statistics for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security reveal that of 261 deaths that took place in 2017 on state roads, only 2 of them were the result of a bus accident. That might be scant relief. Bus accidents may not happen with the same depressing regularity as cars and trucks, but the incidence of serious injuries and fatalities may be much higher for any individual crash.

Public bus accidents do not just involve MTA buses. There are school buses, too. Then there are long distance coaches like the ones run by Greyhound as well as chartered coach and bus transport for things like sports events, weddings and other functions.

Nashville residents may remember the awful Chatanooga school bus crash in 2016 that led to the deaths of 6 children from Woodmere Elementary School. The bus driver at the time has been convicted of vehicular homicide in addition to several other charges. It was alleged by prosecutors that the accident happened because the driver, Johnthony Walker was driving too fast as he negotiated a tight bend and was using his cell phone at the same time.

An unconfirmed report suggested that Walker had asked the 37 children in the school bus if they were “prepared to die” as he approached the bend.

Why bus accidents occur

Bus accidents may not be frequent but may still be avoidable and there is no reason for unnecessary injuries and deaths. As with any large vehicle, the victims may not be just the bus driver or passengers, but are even more than likely to be occupants of a smaller vehicle if it has been hit by the bus. The main reasons for bus accidents can be summarized below:

  • The bus driver was distracted, most commonly by a cell phone call, just before the collision;
  • Fatigue – theoretically, the bus driver shouldn’t be allowed to drive any more than a certain amount of hours, but this doesn’t mean he or she isn’t too tired to concentrate on driving for some other reason;
  • Failure to stick to traffic safety rules, for example, failing to stop at a red light or a stop sign or yielding the right of way;
  • Faulty equipment, such as brakes, steering, lights or a blind spot preventing the driver from seeing another close by vehicle;
  • Failure to have the right qualifications (commercial driver’s license with passenger endorsement) checked by bus company officials or experience;
  • Aggressive driving, such as speeding, tailgating and lane changing;
  • Intoxication, use of alcohol or illegal drugs or the use of medication which led to an impairment of the senses or judgment.

To be fair, not all bus accidents are caused by either the bus driver or the bus company. The bus may be forced to swerve to avoid a collision when approached by another vehicle that is being driven dangerously. The driver may do his or her best to avoid a collision in such circumstances, but may be unable to prevent a crash.

A school bus was hit by a car driven by a 76 year old woman when the bus was stopped at a traffic light in Rogersville recently. Like the Chatanooga bus crash, all the passengers were elementary age children. The force of the collision in this instance did more damage to the car and the car driver, but some of the young school bus passengers received minor injuries.

Should I be afraid to use a bus or to allow my children to use a school bus?

There appears to be no reason why bus transport is inherently unsafe, even if accidents do occur from time to time. Whether you are safer using your own vehicle or a bus is a moot point, but most people make decisions about public transport other than just safety, i.e. because it is more or less convenient, can’t drive, don’t wish to drive, too difficult to find a parking space etc.

Bus accidents may be relatively rare, but they are certainly potentially devastating if the crash is a serious one. As an injured passenger, or the injured occupant of another vehicle involved in the crash, if you believe that the bus driver or the bus company was at fault, then you may have the option to claim damages from the driver, the bus company or whoever was at fault. Get in touch with an experienced Nashville bus accident attorney as soon as possible after the accident.