Roughly one pedestrian per week is killed by a transit bus in the United States. This includes people like 22-year old Danielle Sale, who raised money for the homeless as a young child, participated in annual multiple sclerosis fundraiser walks, and never got a chance to launch her promising medical career after being crushed by a bus in Portland.
Emily Dunn, a 23-year old San Francisco woman, was passionate about the entertainment industry and had founded an artist relations and hospitality company. She had moved from Atlanta only a month prior to being run over. An avid traveler, she visited 35 countries. She won't make it to number 36.
And, can you imagine surviving all of the challenges and tribulations of daily life for 88 years and being snuffed out in an instant by a 17-ton bus? That's what happened to Margaret McCluskey of Vancouver, WA, a retired journalist and Peace Corps volunteer who ironically had written a letter to the local newspaper just weeks before her death praising the very transit system that prevented her from reaching her 90th birthday. Investigations proved that each of these victims died because the buses that struck them had blind spots so large that the driver never saw them.
Crosswalks have become mine fields for transit buses, and the industry has acknowledged that the issue is a nationwide problem as this news story from Kansas City shows.
The transit agency in Des Moines, IA, has actually moved to eliminate left hand turns to the greatest extent possible. Seattle and Cleveland are trying out a "talking bus," alerting pedestrians in crosswalks when a bus is approaching.
While transit is still a very safe mode of travel for those on board the bus, crosswalks are the industry's Achilles Heel, and blind spots are the reason why.
In 2008, the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) released a groundbreaking report, warning U.S. transit systems about these hazards, noting that bus components, including side mirrors and the massive pillar on the left side of the windshield, create blind spots that obstruct the driver's view.
According to the report, oftentimes when asked what happened following a bus-and-pedestrian collision, operators reported that they "just did not see the pedestrian," or that the pedestrians seem to have come from "out of nowhere."
Typical bus mirrors, mounted in critical sight lines, needlessly block the driver's vision, causing fatal accidents. In fact, from the point of view of the operator, up to 13 pedestrians may be hidden behind the massive "A" pillar and left side mirror at any given time. All transit buses in service today have several enormous and unnecessary blind spots, including fare boxes and other design defects.
This is not at all surprising because bad bus engineering guarantees needless tragedies.
What is astonishing, however, is that despite knowing the risks, transit systems from coast to coast continue to order these massive mobile manslaughter machines and put them on the road. Their solution? Operators should bob and weave in their seat -- the so-called "rock and roll" method -- to attempt to see around the massive pillars and mirrors. This is quite frankly a small-minded, incredibly naïve solution which fails to address a massive problem.
For the typical operator, leaning far enough to impede steering moves the eyes only half the width of some obstructions. Many operators simply cannot move around freely in the seat without the huge horizontal steering wheel jabbing them in the abdomen. This of course impacts their range of motion and vision.
The mirrors and pillars create a 'moving blind spot' as a bus makes a left turn.
As a person walks off the curb and moves forward, he or she stays in the blind spot. The bus moves with the pedestrian so the driver never sees them coming.
Would transit management rely on this insufficient "rock and roll" method if they knew that their own family member might be the person in that crosswalk?
Meanwhile, even though the cost of liability far exceeds the cost of safe design, bus manufacturers - one of whom estimates the increase in build cost to eliminate the blind spots would be under $300 per bus - continue to sell their clients flawed and dangerous vehicles that are tailor-made to certain specifications.
Imagine if a defect was found in bus engines causing engines to catch on fire. You can bet your life savings transit agencies and the federal government would be up in arms holding congressional hearing and calling for recalls to fix the defect no matter what cost.
The response to the bus blind spots causing these deadly accidents by transit systems is to say the vehicles currently meet federal standards.
The Federal Transit Administration has the authority to issue regulations in the area of safety, and the agency must initiate a federal rulemaking to address these issues as soon as possible. However, the slow moving federal bureaucracy cannot continue to stand in the way when the issues are a matter of life and death.
To prevent needless imminent tragedies, any new vehicles should have low mounted, reasonably sized left side mirrors and "A" pillars which allow operators, regardless of height, to adequately view pedestrians crossing in front of the bus and an overall drivers' area which eliminates blind spots to the greatest extent possible.
It seems well worth the $300.
Each one of these senseless tragedies has multiple victims: the person struck by the bus, their family and friends, and the bus operator whose life will never be the same. Let's leave "rock and roll" to the radio and take the blindfolds off of bus drivers so they can fulfill their mission to move America safely!