Driver in Deadly NJ School Bus Crash Was Fatigued and in Pain: NTSB

The driver in last year’s fatal school bus accident in Chesterfield, New Jersey should have seen a dump truck coming, according to federal investigators, but he was tired and in pain from persistent back problems.

Those back problems prevented him from being able to scan the area of the intersection adequately, according to investigators, who also believe the driver did not tell his employer about his back problems.

According to the NTSB hearing transcript: "Staff believes the driver failed to disclose and [sic] information about his medical condition and medication which prevented his ability to safely operate a schoolbus. The cdl [Commercial Drivers License] examiner did not thoroughly evaluate the fitness for duty and if the driver thoroughly disclosed his conditions or the examiner completed a more thorough examination, it is likely the schoolbus driver would not be medically certified to be a schoolbus driver."

"To summarize, the school bus driver failed to effectively scan intersection for hazards as a result of cognitive issues. The cognitive issues were likely the result of fatigue. The driver was fatigued due to a combination of any or all of acute sleep loss, sleep that, poor sleep quality, chronic pain, alcohol use and the use of potentially sedating medications."

Those are some of the findings revealed at the start of today’s hearing by the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB). The board is meeting in Washington, D.C. and expected to make new school bus safety recommendations based on deadly accidents in New Jersey and Florida last year.

The Chesterfield accident happened in February of 2012. There were 25 students from Chesterfield Elementary School on the bus when it collided with a dump truck and slammed into a utility pole. 11-year-old Isabelle Tezsla, a triplet and daughter of a New Jersey State Trooper, was killed in the crash. Five other students were injured, including her two sisters.

During the hearing, investigators played a video simulating an unbelted child flying across the width of a school bus and hitting their head. Investigators said Tezsla was probably not wearing a seat belt that morning. During opening statements, the Chairman of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman, said seat belts do make a difference.

Findings also include information about the dump truck, which investigators say had brake defects and was carrying too much weight.

WATCH LIVENTSB on deadly bus crash

The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent federal agency that is responsible for investigating and determining the probable cause of every civil aviation accident in the United States. In addition, the board also investigates accidents in the other modes of transportation including rail, highway, marine and pipeline.

The board is also expected to consider findings from a previously concluded investigation of a crash in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in which a tractor-trailer truck hit a school bus, killing one student and seriously injuring four others.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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