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Accident Report Detail

Chartered Bus Crash on U.S. Route 22 (Interstate 78)

Executive Summary

‚ÄčAbout 1:55 p.m., July 15, 1970, a chartered tour bus carrying a group of young people, aged 10 to 17, and counselors on a sightseeing trip was westbound on U.S. 22 (interstate 78, four lanes, limited access) about 12 miles west of Allentown, Pennsylvania, at a speed of (about) 55 miles per hour. A light rain was falling and had been preceded by a heavy shower.
While it was on a 2 degree curve to the right, just east of the Berks-Lehigh County line, the bus started to slide on the wet highway, then rotated 180 degrees clockwise through the guardrail and off the northern embankment. It overturned at the bottom of the embankment, ejecting 18 persons and pinning six of them under the left side of the bus. Seven children were fatally injured. No fire ensued.

The highway at the accident site when wet was found to have a skid number lower than the minimum recommended by Federal Highway Administration, and improper drainage resulting from inadequate maintenance of the median. It had a significantly high accident record involving skidding and loss of vehicle control. After the crash, a dramatic reduction in accidents resulted from the surface grooving, grading and paving of the median and shoulders, and replacement of the cable-type guardrail with a W-beam type.

The two left-rear tires of the bus were smooth; all others had adequate tread. Steering-system damage, found after the crash, could not be positively established as being pre-crash, in-crash, or post-crash induced.

The driver, a 45-year-old male, had a poor health history and a substantial record of traffic violations and accidents, but no specific health factor or driving error was involved in this crash.

Probable Cause

‚ÄčThe National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was either dynamic or viscous hydroplaning of the front wheels of the bus which initiated a skid from which the driver could not recover. Contributing factors included low basic skid resistance of the pavement in wet weather, and the probable presence of water draining across the pavement in an abnormal manner. The fatalities and injuries were caused by an ineffective highway guardrail which failed to prevent the bus from rolling down an embankment, by bus windows, which failed to prevent ejection of some passengers, and in some cases, by the absence of occupant restraints.

Accident Location: New Smithville , PA    
Accident Date: 7/15/1970
Accident ID: 79842

Date Adopted: 9/8/1971
NTSB Number: HAR-71-08
NTIS Number: PB-204473

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