A deadly crash between a casino bus and a tractor trailer that killed 13 people near Palm Springs, California last year likely resulted from a driver’s undiagnosed sleep apnea and an inadequate traffic management plan by the state to control traffic in a work zone, federal investigators determined.
In its investigation of the Oct. 23, 2016, crash of a 47-passenger 1996 MCI motor coach operated by USA Holiday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the casino bus slammed into the back of a stopped tractor-trailer at a high speed. The crash killed the casino bus driver and 12 passengers who were returning to Los Angeles from the Red Earth Casino in Thermal, California.
According to the NTSB, the tractor-trailer and other traffic had been stopped on the highway by police for utility work. But when traffic resumed, the truck continued to idle. The casino bus crashed into the tractor-trailer two minutes later, plowing through about 13 feet of the trailer and pushing it 71 feet forward.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of the crash was the California Department of Transportation’s (Caltrans) inadequate transportation management plan for stopping traffic, which created a dangerous situation in which law enforcement did not detect the truck’s lack of movement following the traffic break and did not provide any advance warning to the bus driver of the potential for stopped traffic ahead.
The NTSB also found the tractor-trailer driver failed to resume driving after the traffic stopped because he most likely fell asleep due to fatigue related to his undiagnosed, moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea.
According to the NTSB:
Despite the fact the truck driver was severely obese and at a very high risk for obstructive sleep apnea, he had not been tested for the condition. And although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Medical Review Board has developed guidance for screening for obstructive sleep apnea, the FMCSA has not disseminated this guidance to the medical examiners it certifies to perform commercial driver’s license medical examinations.
NTSB investigators determined that the bus driver was likely fatigued as well. The crash occurred in the pre-dawn darkness when many fatigue-related accidents occur.
“In this crash, not one but two commercial vehicle drivers – people who drive for a living – were unable to respond appropriately to cues that other motorists acted on,’’ said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “Federal and state regulators, commercial motor carriers and professional drivers can do better. Given the stakes, they must do better.’’