The big-rig driver who allegedly caused a deadly bus crash in Palm Springs has been arrested for his role in the accident. Thirteen people died, and another 29 were injured in the October 23, 2016 crash. Bruce Guilford faces charges including vehicular manslaughter, felony reckless driving, and reckless driving. The tragedy highlights some of the safety concerns surrounding truck drivers driving fatigued.
Truck Driver Fell Asleep on the 10 Freeway
The accident occurred on the 10 Freeway outside Palm Springs. Guilford reportedly fell asleep at the wheel while his truck was stopped in the westbound lane for a construction-related traffic break. Although California Highway Patrol officers reopened the lanes for traffic, Guilford was asleep, and his truck remained stopped.
A bus traveling at 76 miles per hour from Thermal to Los Angeles crashed into the rear of Guilford’s big-rig at around 5:20 a.m. In all, 13 passengers died while 31 were injured. The force of the crash was so severe that the first 15 feet of the bus were demolished by the trailer.
Truck Driver Allegedly Violated Federal Driving Regulations
The accident raises serious concerns about maximum driving time regulations and other safety issues. Following an investigation, California Highway Patrol investigators announced Guilford violated maximum driving-time regulations, falsified his travel log, and had likely not slept for a long time before the accident.
“In the 24 hours preceding the collision, Mr. Guilford had only 7 hours of sleep opportunity, but it is unlikely that he actually slept during those opportunities,” according to the arrest declaration.
In all, Guilford violated up to 20 hours-of-service regulations. Those regulations are intended to prevent drivers from getting behind the wheel while tired.
Guilford was reportedly arrested in Georgia and is being held on $500,000 bail. He faces 13 counts of vehicular manslaughter, 12 counts of felony reckless driving causing injury, and 17 misdemeanor counts of reckless driving causing injury.
“Guilford was arrested just before 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time in Georgia by the U.S. Marshal Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force,” a news release from the Riverside District Attorney’s Office states. “That multiagency task force was contacted by the Pacific Southwest Regional Fugitive Task Force, Team 6, with information to coordinate the arrest of Guilford on a $500,000 arrest warrant issued by a judge on Oct. 18, 2017.”
USA Holiday May Also be at Fault for Palm Springs Bus Crash
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also conducted an investigation and is expected to present their findings at a meeting on October 31, 2017. At a press conference held just days after the bus crash in Palm Springs, NTSB investigators revealed four of the eight bus tires had unsafe tread levels that could have resulted in the bus being pulled from service.
USA Holiday owned the bus and the driver during the accident, Teoduro Elias Vides, was the company’s owner. He was one of the people who died in the crash.
Lawsuits Filed Against Various Defendants
Following the Palm Springs bus crash, victims’ families filed lawsuits against USA Holiday, Southern California Edison, Riverside County, Caltrans, and Desert Hot Springs, among other defendants, alleging they all played a role in causing the accident.
Arrest Follows News Government Dropping New Safety Requirements
Guilford’s arrest highlights the dangers of drivers getting behind the wheel while tired, a concern safety advocates point to when calling on the government to do more to protect other motorists. Unfortunately, officials recently announced they were pulling proposed rules that would have made it easier to prevent fatal accidents linked to tired truck drivers.
A 2016 proposed rule would have required truck drivers to undergo sleep apnea testing. Sleep apnea is a serious condition that disrupts sleep and leads to extreme daytime fatigue. When the rule was proposed, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said sleep apnea that was not properly treated could “cause unintended sleep episodes and resulting deficits in attention, concentration, situational awareness, and memory, thus reducing the capacity to safely respond to hazards performing safety sensitive duties.”
In August 2017, the U.S. government announced it would no longer seek mandatory sleep apnea testing as part of a move to cut federal regulations that are seen by the administration to prevent economic growth. Instead of requiring sleep apnea testing, officials will allow trucking companies to determine for themselves whether screening is necessary. The NTSB responded to the government’s move with disappointment, noting that obstructive sleep apnea was examined as a factor in several highway crash investigations.
Meanwhile, a study published in 2016 in the journal Sleep suggests truck drivers with improperly treated apnea have a rate of preventable accidents five times higher than fellow drivers without sleep apnea.
Safety experts argue that the government’s move away from mandatory testing will allow fatigued drivers to get behind the wheel, putting even more motorists at risk for a fatal truck crash.