Greyhound Crash: Bus drivers sleep at the wheel and menace nation’s roadways
On Saturday, September 14, 2013, at about 4 am, 64-year-old Dwayne Garrett, passed out. At the time, he was operating a Greyhound bus packed with 53 passengers.
“Oh My God, Wake up! Wake up!”
These were the last words that Stephane Calloway heard before the Greyhound bus he was a passenger in had barreled off of Interstate 75 North, near Cincinnati, OH. Because Greyhound driver Dwayne Garrett’s head was down, it was too late to slow down and safely stop this 20-ton bus.
The bus flipped over on the highway, then rolled again as it continued to slide at a high speed off of the highway, then it crashed into a tree, before it finally slid to a stop in the middle of a cornfield.
When a passenger boards a Greyhound bus, they assume that the largest bus company in the United States would honor their obligation to safely transport their passengers. In fact, Greyhound’s motto and the way they answer their phones is, “Safety First!” Passengers assume that Greyhound will take reasonable steps to be sure that the bus itself is in good working order. Passengers also expect that the bus driver will be well rested and totally alert, before getting behind the wheel of a full bus.
It’s not clear yet whether Dwayne Garrett fell asleep or passed out. Even if he passed out, many questions still need to be answered. Was 64 year old Dwayne Garrett vulnerable to passing out and if so, should or did Greyhound know about this risk when they allowed him to drive? Did he look or seem tired or ill before he started this route? Did he ever pass out previously? With Greyhound’s record of dangerous crashes caused by tired drivers behind the wheel, the facts of this horrific crash with 53 people aboard must be fully explored before Greyhound gets to point the finger elsewhere.
Greyhound bus drivers keep falling asleep at the wheel.
Here are just two examples of other Greyhound Bus crashes this year, which were caused by Greyhound bus drivers falling asleep. On August 1, 2013, a Greyhound bus operator with 48 passengers fell asleep near Kalamazoo, MI on Interstate 94. His bus slammed so hard into the rear of a tractor-trailer that it took hours for emergency crews to remove the driver from his seat. Many passengers were injured. On January 17, 2013, a Greyhound bus operator with 27 passengers fell asleep near Erie, PA, on Interstate 90. His bus slammed into the rear of a flatbed truck. Once again, many passengers were injured.
For years, Greyhound bus drivers have been falling asleep and crashing their buses across the United States, injuring and killing passengers. Fifteen years ago, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated a Greyhound accident that occurred on the PA Turnpike on June 20, 1998. Six passengers died in this crash and the NTSB concluded that “driver fatigue” was the primary cause for this crash. As a result, a “Safety Recommendation” was issued to Greyhound Chief Operating Officer Jack Hausland, advising Greyhound to take numerous steps to prevent driver fatigue related crashes in the future.1
I have spent years representing the victims of Greyhound bus crashes from across the United States. In each of the crashes that I have investigated and/or reviewed, it is abundantly clear to me that Greyhound Bus Company has continued to ignore the NTSB recommendations that were issued over 15 years ago. As a result, Greyhound bus drivers keep falling asleep behind the wheel.
WHAT CAN GREYHOUND DO TO KEEP THEIR DRIVERS ALERT AND AWAKE?
Restructure Driver Scheduling Procedures
As a result of the fatal Greyhound crash in 1998, the NTSB recommended several changes at Greyhound, including this one: “[R]evise your driver scheduling practices to reduce scheduling and variability that results in irregular work-rest cycles.”2 The NTSB cited three preeminent studies related to the importance of allowing bus drivers to obtain enough sleep and scheduling them in a consistent way, so they drive over the same periods of the day each time they drive.3 If a driver normally drives from 9 am to 5 pm, this general time period should be their daily schedule and not regularly varied. Changing driver shifts from daytime to nighttime then back to daytime within days of each other results in irregular work-rest cycles. The three studies cited in this safety recommendation confirm that the more an individual’s sleep is disturbed, the more likely that individual is to inadvertently fall asleep. Further, the studies cited in this report confirm that tired drivers are less alert, react slower, have difficulty with concentration, and other problems that pose a risk to the passengers in a bus driven by a tired driver.4
In response to this NTSB “Safety Recommendation,” Greyhound allegedly renewed its commitment to focusing on improving management of their driver schedules in order to address the driver fatigue problem. However, in my work handling legal cases against Greyhound, I have found no evidence that driver fatigue is factored into the way routes are scheduled. Further, in my depositions of Greyhound employees (where they provide testimony under oath), not one employee could provide me with the steps that are taken by Greyhound to factor fatigue management into the scheduling of routes. In fact, driver routes are assigned at Greyhound primarily based on seniority. The least desirable, most demanding routes are typically assigned to the drivers with the least seniority. This means that the hardest routes are assigned to the least experienced drivers. This is exactly what occurred in a case I handled against Greyhound, where a 24-year-old, inexperienced driver fell asleep in the middle of the night and his bus filled with passengers flipped onto its side on the PA Turnpike.
A 2011 New York Times article confirmed that these scheduling problems lead to tired bus drivers. “It is not uncommon for companies to juggle schedules up until the last minute, calling drivers into work with as little as an hour’s notice. Even if a driver feels short on sleep, there is strong incentive to make the trip — drivers who do not take assignments go to the bottom of the call list…and most drivers are paid only for trips they make. It is also common for drivers to work second and third jobs because the pay is so low.”
Greyhound management must transform the way routes are assigned so that their drivers are alert and awake before they start a route. To put the importance of this program in perspective, consider the last time you heard of a school bus driver falling asleep behind the wheel. There are hundreds of thousands of school buses in the United States. Many of the drivers start driving very early in the morning. However, these drivers work the same hours every day and therefore their sleep cycles are not disrupted.
Fatigue Monitoring Equipment
The NTSB Safety Recommendation also suggested that Greyhound take advantage of electronic technology to improve their monitoring of their drivers and address fatigue related issues.5 This recommendation would logically include the use of any technology that might prevent their drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. Since 2000, great strides have occurred with technology that is designed to detect when drivers are tired. This technology is not just available to bus companies. Fatigue detection systems are now available in many makes and models of automobiles. Ford, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz are just a few of the many car manufacturers that equip their vehicles with systems designed to detect when a driver is tired. Fatigue detection systems typically trigger a hard vibration in the steering wheel, an effective way of alerting or waking up a driver.
In 2001, only one year after the NTSB officially recommended that Greyhound use technology to track and prevent driver fatigue, a news report out of Washington confirmed that Greyhound bus officials did not list driver fatigue as the cause of an accident in company reports, even if investigators ruled that a driver fell asleep.6 Clearly, if Greyhound is ignoring fatigue related crashes, they can’t address and correct this problem.
It costs money to implement an appropriate safety program. This can cut profits. Installing driver fatigue awareness technology and properly tracking and monitoring data related to accidents caused by tired drivers will require a financial commitment from management. Greyhound passengers trust its bus drivers to transport them safely from one destination to another. A failure to properly balance safety with profit is a breach of Greyhound’s responsibility to the passengers who keep it in business.
Supervisor and Dispatcher Intervention
Greyhound has supervisors, dispatchers and management employees across the US. Many of these employees are based at the terminals. Supervisors at the terminals are in a perfect position to make sure that the drivers who pick up passengers at the terminal appear to be alert and awake. By taking just a few minutes to be around them, speak to them, and observe them, the supervisors may detect fatigue and prevent a tired driver from getting behind the wheel of a Greyhound bus.
Greyhound dispatchers typically assign routes to drivers. These dispatchers are well positioned to review the past route schedule for a driver to be sure that they have had adequate rest and a consistent sleep cycle. The dispatcher should review this information before assigning a driver to a route. Computer software can be utilized to help manage this part of a dispatcher’s responsibilities.
Greyhound management can implement steps necessary to manage dispatchers and supervisors and enforce fatigue prevention polices for drivers. Management employees can also review driver logs to be sure drivers stay on regular routes and not overworked. In my work against Greyhound, I have yet to find evidence that management maintains a sustained, consistent program enforcing any of these steps that could prevent tired drivers from being assigned to a route.
Few situations are more terrifying than that of a passenger in a 20-ton bus with no driver controlling the bus. Before Greyhound Bus Company packs another one of its buses with up to 52 passengers; it owes its passengers a commitment to safety. If Greyhound were to implement and enforce the above policies, the largest bus company in America could put the brakes on the majority of its fatigue related crashes.
Jon Ostroff, Esquire is a Trial and Litigation Attorney with Ostroff Injury Law, 518 E. Township Line Road, Suite 100, Blue Bell, PA 19422.
1 National Transit Safety Board, 2000, Safety Recommendation to Greyhound Lines, Inc. (H-00-06 through 09), Washington, D.C.
2 Ibid., p. 5.
3 Ibid., pgs. 2-3
4 Ibid., pgs. 2-3
5 NTSB (H-00-06 through 09), p. 5.
6 Benjamin Grove, “Greyhound Doesn’t Track Driver Fatigue in Accidents,” Las Vegas Sun, August 21, 2001.