Types of Bus Accidents: Commercial, Public Transit and School | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

In the wake of the tragic May 31, 2011, Sky Express tour bus crash on I-95 in Caroline County, Virginia (VA), we find ourselves deeply concerned for the safety of bus passengers. These concerns for riders on the most commonly form of mass transit extend equally to people on public transportation and children aboard school buses.

When someone has been injured in a bus crash where the driver was at fault or the bus malfunctioned, that person may bring a lawsuit against the driver and the company or agency responsible for overseeing operations of the bus and its driver. For commercial buses, named defendants in a personal injury case would likely be the driver and the private company that owns and operates the buses. For accidents involving public transportation buses and school buses, lawsuit defendants could be the at-fault bus driver and the city or local government agency that oversees bus operations.


Commercial bus crashes often happen because of driver fatigue. In the Caroline County wreck, four passengers were killed and dozens more injured after the driver of a Sky Express tour bus traveling from Greensboro, North Carolina (NC) to New York City fell asleep at the wheel, causing the bus to swerve off the highway and overturn after hitting an embankment. The driver has been charged with reckless driving and four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Even before that wreck, Sky Express had been cited for 46 violations for driver fatigue since 2009, which ranked the company worse than 86 percent of its comparably sized competitors in the tour and charter bus industry. Sky Express also acquired 17 unsafe driving citations during the same period, 8 of which were for speeding.

Excess speed is another significant factor in causing bus wrecks. The Sky Express accident occurred just two months after a horrendous bus crash killed 14 passengers. In that incident a World Wide Tours bus was returning to New York from Connecticut when it suddenly ran off the highway, overturned, and was split down the middle by a support pole it crashed into. The driver was speeding, going 78 mph in a 55 mph zone, just before the wreck. That same driver had a history of driving without a license and other traffic offenses. He has also served time for manslaughter.

Many bus crashes are caused by drivers who should not be on the road and responsible for the lives of dozens of passengers. In addition to speeding and falling asleep at the wheel, many move from state to state and change names to obtain new licenses after having previous licenses suspended under different names. In May 2011, New York state authorities made 46 arrests in one day for such violations, catching some NYC city bus drivers in the crackdown. In the 60 days following the World Wide Tours crash, New York authorities made 1,960 surprise roadside bus inspections, issued 197 tickets and pulled 173 bus drivers off their shifts on the spot.

Public transportation buses such as those operated by Hampton Roads Transit in Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach, VA, are also prone to accidents and mishaps. For instance, on June 15, 2011, an HRT bus in Virginia Beach was destroyed after it caught fire with 9 passengers onboard. Luckily, each passengers reached safety without being injured. Firefighters determined the cause to be a mechanical failure. Perhaps better inspection policies could have prevented the failure from occurring.

Virginia school bus accidents are also a concern. During the summer of 2010, a Virginia Beach school bus ran a red light and crashed into another vehicle at an intersection. A couple months earlier, a Chesapeake, VA, bus carrying around 15 middle school students ran off the road and flipped onto its side in a ditch. There were no serious injuries in either accident; nonetheless, such incidents heighten awareness that bus safety, and the hiring practices of those who operate buses, should always be public safety concerns.

Whether it’s commercial buses carrying tourists to destinations across state lines, public transportation buses carrying Hampton Roads locals to work or city school buses carrying our children, bus safety and the prevention of accidents require continuous evaluation. The private companies that run commercial buses and the local governments that oversee public transportation and school buses need to know that we — as consumers, civilians — and parents expect their best efforts and will hold them accountable.