Bus Traveling Up to 78 MPH Before Crash: NTSB

A tour bus that crashed on I-95 in the Bronx, killing 15 people, was traveling as fast as 78 mph before the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday.

It is too soon to know the cause of the accident, NTSB officials told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday. A camera on the bus did not record it, NTSB officials said.

The speed limit on many parts of  I-95, including the area where the bus crashed, is 55 miles per hour.  The bus reached speeds of 78 mph at times, federal officials said.

NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman told New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg's committee that she favors having seatbelts in all motor coaches for passengers.  She said the seatbelts "will allow people who choose to use them to use them," Hersman said.

Ron Medford, deputy administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the agency plans to issue new bus safety standards but needs more time to craft the regulations.

"We are dedicated to getting this done as fast as we can," Medford said. "But we want to base it on good science and good engineering."

Deadly bus crashes over the past decade have claimed dozens of lives.

The Bronx crash, as well as recent bus accidents in New Hampshire and New Jersey, have rekindled interest in bipartisan legislation that would require regulators to act on longstanding NTSB bus safety recommendations.

The recommendations include requiring seatbelts for all passengers and electric onboard recorders that keep track of how many hours a driver has been behind the wheel.

The NTSB also has urged that buses have stronger roofs that aren't easily crushed or sheared off to prevent passengers from being ejected in a rollover and to ensure they have enough space inside to survive. The board wants bus windows to be glazed using new, more advanced methods so they hold together even when shattered. And, the board wants windows and exits that are easier for passengers to open.

About half of all motor coach fatalities in recent years have occurred as the result of rollovers, and about 70 percent of those killed in rollover accidents were ejected from the bus, according to the Transportation Department.

The driver in the Bronx case, Ophadell Williams, has not been charged with any crime in connection with the crash. Officials said Williams had a criminal record that includes a past arrest for driving with a suspended license and possession of three police radio scanners.

The bus crashed as it headed back from Connecticut's Mohegan Sun casino to Manhattan's Chinatown early in the morning on March 12. 

Earlier this month, Williams told NBC New York that he too was "hurt" by the crash.  "I am having a difficult time breathing," Williams said. "I am really hurt about the whole situation," he said.

Just two days after the crash in the Bronx, a bus operated by Super Luxury crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing two people.

Sen. Lautenberg said Wednesday the Department of Transportation is taking away permission for Super Luxury to operate, as its safety record is in the bottom 1 percent of motorcoach companies.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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