The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its findings into the fatal tour bus crash in Palm Springs that killed 13 people. According to the agency, the tour bus driver—who died in the crash—was sleep deprived and failed to properly react to the stopped semi-truck it crashed into. The NTSB’s report comes approximately a week after the semi-truck driver involved in the bus crash was charged with a variety of offenses also related to sleep deprivation.
Tour Bus Crashed on Trip Back from Red Earth Casino
The crash happened on October 23, 2016, as the tour bus traveled along Interstate 10 from Red Earth Casino in Thermal to Los Angeles. At around 5:00 a.m. the bus crashed into a big rig’s trailer at 76 miles per hour near Highway 62. The semi-truck had stopped for work being done along the route. Police had allowed traffic to resume, but the tractor-trailer remained stopped. The driver, Bruce Guilford, reportedly fell asleep and failed to move the truck when traffic restarted.
Traffic on I-10 Was Stopped for Wire Removal Prior to Palm Springs Bus Accident
Traffic was stopped for around seven minutes while crews from Southern California Edison removed electrical wires that ran across the road. A California Highway Patrol officer stopped traffic, but no advanced warning signs were placed to alert traffic to the stoppage. When traffic resumed, the officer left and did not notice that the tractor-trailer had not moved.
Since the crash, Caltrans has changed its policy to require at least two officers be part of all traffic breaks and advance signs be put up even for small traffic stops.
USA Holiday Tour Bus Driver was Sleep Deprived
According to the NTSB, Teodulo Elias Vides, the tour bus driver, should have had 20 seconds to see and respond to the stopped tractor-trailer but failed to take any action to prevent the crash. The agency blamed the failure on Vides being sleep deprived, finding he had slept only four hours in the 35 hours before the crash. Only one hour of that sleep occurred before Vides got behind the wheel for the return trip.
“There were other drivers traveling ahead of the bus driver who were able to see the truck, determine it was stopped, and take corrective action to avoid striking it,” said Kenny Bragg, NTSB Accident Investigator.
The NTSB shared the blame between the tour bus driver, the driver of the tractor-trailer and the California Department of Transportation. Among the agency’s findings:
- The California Department of Transportation improperly managed traffic, creating a hazardous situation in which police did not notice that the tractor-trailer was still stopped and the tour bus driver did not realize there was the potential for traffic ahead;
- The truck driver likely fell asleep while traffic was stopped, possibly due to undiagnosed severe sleep apnea;
- The truck driver violated hours-of-service rules, and Tri-State Collision (the company he was driving for) did not take action to verify its drivers followed hours-of-service rules;
- The collision was severe enough that the only door on the bus was affected by the impact, prolonging evacuation efforts;
- Neither vehicle had collision avoidance systems, which could have warned about the impending crash; and
- The bus driver was fatigued and did not have a warning about stopped traffic, both of which prevented him from anticipating and responding to the tractor-trailer in time.
Following the on-scene investigation, the NTSB determined that of eight bus tires, six were overly worn and did not meet federal requirements.
Truck Driver Who Was Hit During the Accident Faces More than 40 Charges
For his part, the tractor-trailer driver faces more than 40 charges including vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving. An NTSB investigation determined the trucker was on his second consecutive trip from Alabama to California, and did not have the required time off between trips. Furthermore, the agency discovered the truck driver falsified his hours of driving and time spent sleeping.
The big rig driver was arrested and is being held on $500,000 bail.
NSTB Frustrated with Sleep Deprived Commercial Drivers
Although there was plenty of blame to go around, the NTSB expressed frustration with overtired commercial drivers.
“We’re tired, yes we are tired, of seeing commercial drivers being tired,” said NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt during the agency’s hearing into the crash. “Here’s a case where people just riding on a bus, just paying money to go to [the] casino and back, they died because of destructive sleep apnea on two drivers in two separate vehicles.”
Sleep apnea is a contributing factor to driver fatigue. Recently, federal regulators announced they would no longer push for legislation to require commercial truck drivers to take mandatory sleep apnea testing. That move angered safety advocates, who argued more lives would be at risk by keeping sleep apnea testing voluntary. Cases like the tragic Palm Springs bus accident highlight the need for adequate testing of commercial truck and bus drivers, to ensure they aren’t driving overly fatigued.