Pulling to the Curb

It is surprising how many drivers fail to pull their buses or coaches to the curb, or otherwise position them properly in the loading zone. It is not surprising how many things can go wrong when they do not.

Many of Many More

  • A transit driver discharged his elderly passenger in the travel lane in front of a construction site. She alighted and promptly stepped into a patch of wet cement.
  • Another transit driver discharged his disabled passenger away from the curb in front of a construction site. He alighted and immediately stepped into a pothole.
  • A transit driver discharged his young adult passenger in the middle of three lanes in his direction. Not realizing there was yet another lane to the left, thinking she was already halfway across the street, and concerned about getting struck by vehicles pulling in and out of the curb lane, she checked for traffic in the oncoming direction, and crossed in front of the bus into the outer lane where she was struck by a car passing the bus.
  • In his efforts to avoid dragging luggage around the bus in the snow, a motorcoach driver discharged his passengers beneath a hotel canopy in the middle of an ice-covered and potholed driveway. An elderly passenger had difficulty negotiating the icy path to the curb, and slipped while stepping up onto it.
  • Instead of discharging his elderly passenger in a 300-foot long, unoccupied loading zone in front of a clinic, a paratransit driver discharged her across the street. Unable to negotiate the curb, she fell and broke her hip.
  • A transit driver discharged his passenger three feet away from the curb, in the “gray zone,” on the wrong side of the intersection. With another passenger directly in front, she realized the bus had not pulled to the curb only while in mid-step to it. Because this curb was not maintained (since it was not the designated bus stop), the passenger stepped onto a loose chip which broke off, spilling her onto the ground.
  • Upon request, a transit driver discharged his middle school passenger in the travel lane so that he could find his father, who’s car he spotted a block before. The passenger looked both ways before crossing in front of the bus, spotted a vehicle approaching it in the same direction, and failed to remember he was not riding a school bus, whose flashing lights would otherwise have stopped traffic (at least in theory). Not thinking the bus would discharge passengers from the travel lane, a motorist passed it – and promptly ran the passenger over.
  • A school bus driver operating an older bus model with no amber lights or stop arm stopped, in the travel lane, to pick up an elementary school passenger waiting across the street. Not realizing that the bus was preparing to load, an oncoming car struck the would-be passenger as she began to cross the roadway.

These drivers at least aligned their buses or coaches parallel to the curb. Similar accidents occur when the vehicle is positioned diagonally:

  • A transit bus angled into the stop with its rear end sticking out. Because the sector of visibility revealed by his street-side exterior mirror was rotated outward, he did not notice a bicyclist approaching the rear of the bus. When he pulled out, the bus’ sudden movement and roar of the rear engine startled the cyclist into the outer lane, where she was struck by a car passing the bus.
  • A paratransit van backed up into a driveway, on a diagonal. When his elderly plaintiff alighted, even with driver assistance, her lead foot landed on the diagonal slope at the edge of an already down-sloping driveway entrance, and she fell, breaking her leg, which was later amputated.
  • An airport shuttle driver angled into the curb at wild Los Angeles International Airport. A severely overweight woman stepped out of the rear door into a pothole which a properly-positioned bus would have covered.

These are only some of the cases of this type in which I have been involved. The unfortunate reality is that these variations of negligence are common. Because they make far fewer intermediate stops than transit, school bus, paratransit or taxi vehicles, motorcoaches experience far fewer such accidents per vehicle mile traveled. However, they do not necessarily experience fewer of them per stop.

Remedies and Rudiments

Unlike many accident scenarios, the primary remedy to prevent these mishaps is too simple to warrant elaboration. The examples speak for themselves.

As a transportation professional, it is frustrating to regularly witness the deluge of nonsense undertaken in the name of safety when so many injuries and fatalities are caused by the failure to execute fundamental operating procedures. Such errors contribute significantly to the commonly-acknowledged statistic that more bus passengers are killed and seriously injured outside the vehicle when it is not moving than when it is in motion. This is a statistic one would expect from a building, not a public transportation vehicle. Partly because of their lesser mass, such is not even the case with automobiles which, at least statistically, are considered far less safe than much larger vehicles driven by professionals.

Remedies to this problem lie not so much with drivers as with their monitoring, evaluation, supervision and enforcement. Similarly, training in proper loading and unloading procedures is provided far more often than its comprehension, retention and application are observed, corrected and reinforced.

Judgments and Messages

I have enormous respect for transportation directors and managers who explore the nuances of safety. But I have even more respect for those who exhaustively reinforce the basics. Of course, my opinions on such matters are less important than those of jurors. Jurors may sometimes understand a driver’s failure to understand the subtleties of safe driving. But they are far less inclined to forgive a driver for failing to execute procedures less complex than those required of the passengers.

In their closing arguments, plaintiff’s attorneys typically implore jurors to decide on their behalf to send a message. When the message is likely to be understood by a small child, jurors are far more inclined to send it.

Publications: National Bus Trader.