NORTH TEXAS (CBS11 I-TEAM) – The Pelton’s say they remember every softball game their daughter, Jaiden, played. “She was catcher or center field,” Keith Pelton said.
She loved the sport and played it all the way to college. Standing on her hometown softball field, her father fought back tears talking about Jaiden.
“It will be tough forever I guess,” Pelton said. He and wife, Christi, heard about the accident on the news. Pelton still remembers exactly where he was sitting that day in their family living room. The pain is still raw three years later.
The North Central Texas College softball team was driving home from a softball scrimmage against Southern Nazarene University in Bethany. A semi slammed into the team’s mid-size bus killing Jaiden and three other players. Pelton found out his older daughter was among the dead from a highway patrol officer. “I told that guy, ‘Man, you got to tell me. And he told me, she didn’t make it.’ ”
Jaiden was ejected from the bus and thrown outside.
Their lawyer, Todd Tracy had it moved to his office for inspection. Other family members said, “This is not something they should have ever been in,” staring at the mangled bus.
The Pelton’s could not believe how it was made. “It’s made out of wood,” Christi Pelton said.
“My daughter did not stand a chance,” Keith Pelton added.
Expert analyzes the wreckage
Automotive engineer Neil Hannemann agrees. Hannemann has held positions as the original Dodge Viper development engineer, 2005-06 Ford GT chief engineer, and Executive Director of Engineering at McLaren Motorcars. He reviewed the video of the bus crash with the CBS11 I-Team.
Pointing at the siding on the bus, he said, “This is just not a good design practice… This looks to be something even more fragile than wood, almost a laminate almost a foam.”
Hannemann said cars are constructed according to federal standards with a structure that prevents occupants from being ejected. He questions why buses, like this, were not?
What is a medium-sized bus?
Hannemann explained that these are often referred to as mid-sized or medium buses. They typically weighing 26,000 pounds or less, have a body on chassis, and no baggage compartment under the passengers.
Many private and public organizations own them. You typically see them at schools, sports events, churches, daycares, senior centers, hotels, and hospitals.
Industry experts tell the I-Team medium-sized buses play by different rules than other vehicles and other buses… and sometimes no rules at all when it comes to structure.
I-Teams digs up NTSB findings
In a letter to the I-Team, the National Transportation Safety Board said, “There are no requirements when it comes to the occupant compartment structural integrity or crashworthiness” of medium-sized buses.
The I-Team dug through many NTSB documents learning in 2010, the NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said the tragedy of a church bus accident killing seven in Arizona was “not that we haven’t know what to do it’s that we haven’t done it.”
According to more of the I-Team’s findings, by that time ,the NTSB had already repeatedly asked the NTSB to create federal standards “for occupant protection, roof strength and window-glazing… to [save] lives.”
The NTSB told the I-Team in 2014, after reviewing the crash that killed Jaiden Pelton and three others, the NTSB asked the federal government for more standards and side impact protection for medium-sized buses.
Then, in March of 2017, 13 more people died when a pickup pierced the front of a medium-sized church bus in South Texas.
And still, no rules on manufacturing were issued.
What requirements are in place?
There are federal requirements for steering, braking, tires, lighting, exits, seats for medium-sized buses. Federal rules require a driver to wear seat belt but not he passengers. There are many more standards for larger motor coaches and school buses.
NHTSA responds to the I-Team
The I-Team reached out to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, NHTSA, which is responsible for creating the federal requirements in vehicles. The I-Team received the following statement:
“The safety of passengers on America’s roadways is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s top priority. Transportation by motorcoaches and other large buses is an overall safe form of transportation. During the 10-year period from 2004 to 2013 there were an average of 21 motorcoach and large bus occupant fatalities per year.
In accordance with NHTSA’s Approaches to Motorcoach Safety and the DOT’s Motorcoach Safety Action Plan and to fulfill statutory provisions of the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2012, NHTSA issued a number of rule-making actions for motorcoaches and other large buses to protect occupants in motorcoaches and other large high occupancy vehicles from unreasonable risk of death and injury.
This set of rule-making actions apply to all new over the road buses (motorcoaches), regardless of weight, and all other new buses with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) over 26,000 pounds, with certain exceptions, including school and transit buses.
In November 2013, NHTSA issued a final rule requiring lap/shoulder belts at all seating positions.
The agency also published proposals for improved rollover structural integrity in August 2014 and for installation of advanced glazing in May 2016 to mitigate occupant ejections and enhance occupant protection in the event of a rollover crash. We are continuing our efforts to complete these actions.
Generally, the field data indicate that the annual fatality rate in medium-size buses (buses with a GVWR between 10,000 and 26,000 pounds) is significantly lower than that of heavier motorcoaches and large buses even though the annual production of these buses is seven times greater. The agency has taken this factor into consideration during its rule-making deliberations. The agency continues to monitor field data and will consider application of safety rules to medium-size buses, if the data warrants it.”
Medium-sized Bus Association Reacts
The I-Team reached out to MSMBA, the association which tells us it represents medium-sized buses. It is under the NTEA, the association of the work truck industry. The I-Team received the following statement regarding the concerns from the Director of Communications & Public Relations.
“NTSB is empowered to make recommendations to regulators based on their accident investigation. The performance requirements to which all new motor vehicles, including buses, are designed and constructed to meet are established by other agencies and require a much more methodical approach to analyzing the merits of any given safety standard for the particular vehicle type. In addition to meeting these federal regulations, bus products of MSBMA members are also tested under the requirements of Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA’s) Altoona test program. This test program is unique to buses and not required for other vehicles. For more details on these test requirements and FTA contact information, please visittransit.dot.gov/research-innovation/bus-testing.”
In an email exchange, the I-Team asked the MSBMA, ” Does this mean all buses manufactured by MSBMA members are required to pass the FTA’s Altoona test?”
The spokesperson for the MSBMA responded, “There is an “Applicability” section on FTA’s Bus Testing page (transit.dot.gov/research-innovation/bus-testing) that explains the scope of the Altoona test program requirements. That page also has contact information for the FTA office responsible for overseeing the test program, in case you have additional questions.”
The I-Team asked again if this means all MSBMA members are required to pass the FTA’s Altoona test?”
The I-Team then received this response, “We cannot definitively answer this question. NTEA is not privy to production specifics for all of the MSBMA member companies. As such, we can’t confirm testing applicability for every bus manufactured.”
Keep moving forward
The Peltons are concerned about others and said they would like to see stronger and sturdier buses.
“You can’t prevent everything but you can start by building stronger buses,” Christi said. “Put something in there besides a sheet of paneling, some styrofoam. Would you want your child, your mother, aunt, your uncle to be in there.”
They are pushing for change.
What can you do?
If you are concerned about the buses used by your child’s daycare or sports team, you can ask during the bidding process, when the vehicles were bought, did the company asks for any extra safety features or did the manufacturer offer it?
NTSB’s full statement to the I-Team
“The NTSB is still very concerned about the lack of regulations addressing medium-size buses. The NTSB has known, and publicly stated, for now nearly two decades—that more can and must be done to protect medium-size bus occupants. Yet, there are still few crashworthiness standards for medium-size buses.
The safety recommendation that we issued to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a result of the 2009 Dolan Springs, Arizona crash that killed 7, asking that rulemaking addressing motorcoach roof strength, occupant protection, and window glazing apply to all buses, including medium-size buses, is currently classified as “Open- Unacceptable Action”. Although NHTSA has now published and proposed rules regarding motorcoach crashworthiness, the bus definitions within these rulemakings exclude most medium-size buses such as the one involved in the Dolan Springs crash. This is also true for the medium-size buses involved in NTSB investigations since then; such as the bus in the 2014 Davis, Oklahoma crash that killed 4, and the bus involved in the 2017 Concan, Texas crash where 13 people died.
In the Davis, Oklahoma crash, the NTSB further recommended that NHTSA develop a side impact protection standard for all new medium-size buses. Although NHTSA is evaluating the construction of medium-size buses, standards may not come for some time.
In the Concan, Texas crash the bus was equipped with lap-only seat belts for the passengers. However, in medium-size buses, seat belts are not required for the passengers at all, only for the driver. Seat belts have been required on cars for decades, and are now required on all newly manufactured motorcoaches, but medium-size buses again fall into a regulatory gap.
Another safety feature missed in this regulatory gap is electronic stability control, which can help keep vehicles on the road, avoiding rollovers and other loss of control events all-together. Electronic stability control systems have been required on all cars since 2012, and are now required on all newly manufactured truck tractors and certain larger, air-braked buses, but again, not required for most medium-size buses.
Occupants in medium-size bus occupants are at higher risk of death and injury during crashes because vehicle crashworthiness, occupant protection, and electronic stability control systems are not required. The NTSB continues to encourage standards and rulemaking that create a uniform level of safety for all passenger vehicles, including medium-size buses.”
In follow-up questions, the NTSB told the I-Team, “There are some requirements in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that medium-size buses must meet in regard to vehicle safety systems like steering, braking, tires, lighting, emergency exits, seats, etc. Seat belt requirements only apply to the driver in medium-size buses…”
“…there are no requirements for medium-size buses when it comes to the occupant compartment structural integrity or crashworthiness. The only exception would be if the manufacturer does install seat belts for the passengers. In that case, the seat belts must meet design and installation standards.”
Statement from the bus manufacturer involved in Jaiden Pelton’s accident
“Rev Group places vehicle safety as a core priority across all specialty vehicles we manufacture. The Champion Bus involved in this incident met all federal small/medium-sized bus safety standards, as do all buses manufactured by REV Group. As an industry leader, we are now the only Bus manufacturer offering high floor, medium sized buses that exceeds rigorous Automotive FMVSS 214 Side Impact and FMVSS 220 Roof Crush standards.”
In follow-up questions, the I-Team was told, “REV began offering buses tested for FMVSS 214 in 2016. We have always tested our buses for FMVSS 220.”