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Collision Involving Two School Buses, a Bobtail and a Passenger Vehicle
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Event Summary

Board Meeting : Collision Involving Two School Buses, a Bobtail and a Passenger Vehicle
NTSB Conference Center
12/13/2011 12:00 AM

On December 13, 2011, the NTSB Board will meet to discuss the Highway Accident Report related to the collision involving two school buses, a bobtail, and a passenger vehicle which occured on August 5, 2010 in Gray Summit, MO.


NTSB public events are also streamed live via webcast. Webcasts are archived for a period of three months from the time of the meeting. Webcast archives are generally available by the end of the event day for public Meetings, and by the end of the next day for Technical conferences.


This is a synopsis from the Safety Board's report and does not include the Board's rationale for the conclusions, probable cause, and safety recommendations. Safety Board staff is currently making final revisions to the report from which the attached conclusions and safety recommendations have been extracted. The final report and pertinent safety recommendation letters will be distributed to recommendation recipients as soon as possible. The attached information is subject to further review and editing.

Executive Summary

On Thursday morning, August 5, 2010, in Gray Summit, Missouri, traffic slowed in the approach to an active work zone on eastbound Interstate 44 (I-44), as motor vehicles merged from the closed left lane to the right lane. A 2007 Volvo truck-tractor with no trailer was traveling eastbound in the right lane and had slowed or stopped behind traffic. About 10:11 a.m. central daylight time, a 2007 GMC Sierra extended cab pickup truck merged from the left to the right lane and struck the rear of the Volvo tractor. This collision was the first in a series of three.

A convoy of two school buses from St. James High School, St. James, Missouri, was traveling eastbound in the right lane of I-44, approaching the slowed traffic and the collision ahead. Their destination was the Six Flags St. Louis amusement park in Eurkea, Missouri. The lead bus was a 71-passenger school bus, occupied by 23 passengers. Following closely behind the lead bus was a 72-passenger school bus, occupied by 31 passengers. Seconds after the lead bus passed a motorcoach that had pulled over and stopped on the shoulder, it struck the rear of the GMC pickup. This collision-the second in the series-pushed the pickup forward, overturning it onto the back of the Volvo tractor. The front of the lead bus was ramped upward, as it came to rest on top of the GMC pickup and the Volvo tractor. Moments later, the following school bus struck the right rear of the lead bus.

As a result of this accident sequence, the driver of the GMC pickup and one passenger seated in the rear of the lead school bus were killed. A total of 35 passengers from both buses, the 2 bus drivers, and the driver of the Volvo tractor received injuries ranging from minor to serious. Eighteen people were uninjured


  1. The following were not factors in this accident: (1) weather; (2) driver qualifications or familiarity with the accident location; (3) alcohol or illicit drug use by any of the four drivers; (4) mechanical condition of the Volvo tractor, the GMC pickup, or either of the two school buses; (5) emergency response; or (6) highway design, work-zone signage, or work-zone policies.
  2. Had the Volvo tractor, the two school buses, and the motorcoach been required to have video event recorders, the events leading up to this accident could have been more definitively assessed.
  3. The use of video event recorder data for managing driver behavior could assist school bus operators in identifying driver performance issues before they lead to accidents.
  4. The absence of a timely brake application, the cellular provider records indicating frequent texting while driving, the temporal proximity of the last incoming text message to the collision, and the witness statement regarding the driver's actions indicate that the GMC pickup driver was most likely distracted from the driving task by a text messaging conversation at or near the time of the accident.
  5. A combination of enforceable state laws, high visibility enforcement, and supporting communication campaigns can reduce the number of accidents caused by drivers distracted by the use of portable electronic devices.
  6. Manufacturers and providers of portable electronic devices known to be frequently used while driving should reduce the potential of these devices to distract drivers by developing features that discourage their use or that limit their nondriving- or nonemergency-related functionality while a vehicle is in operation.
  7. The collision between the lead school bus and the GMC pickup was the result of the bus driver's attention being drawn away from the forward roadway by the motorcoach parked on the shoulder.
  8. Had the driver of the following school bus maintained the recommended minimum distance from the lead school bus, she would have been able to avoid the accident.
  9. The GMC pickup driver was fatigued at the time of the accident due to cumulative sleep debt and acute sleep loss, which could have resulted in impaired cognitive processing or other performance decrements.
  10. The medical condition of the Volvo tractor driver did not cause or contribute to the accident.
  11. The state of Missouri had no effective oversight of the operations of Copeland Bus Services. 
  12. The Missouri Motor Vehicle Inspection Regulations "School Bus Inspection" section does not adequately delineate the bus systems to be included in an inspection.
  13. The state's current inspection procedures do not allow for the identification of all school bus brake defects included in the Missouri Motor Vehicle Inspection Regulations.
  14. The MVI“2 vehicle inspection form is insufficient because it does not effectively prompt state inspectors to evaluate all of the safety-critical items listed in the Missouri Motor Vehicle Inspection Regulations.
  15. Both the Missouri State Highway Patrol and a state inspection facility conducted inadequate vehicle inspections of buses operated by Copeland Bus Services.
  16. Forward collision warning systems on the two accident buses-and possibly on the GMC pickup-could have prevented the accident or at least mitigated its severity.
  17. The situation of a single occupant having to manually hold open the emergency exit window could delay school bus evacuation.
  18. Components of emergency exit windows, such as protruding latch plates, could cause delays or injuries during school bus evacuation.
  19. The lack of school bus evacuation briefings prior to activity trips may hinder evacuation and pose a risk for all students.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the initial Gray Summit collision was distraction, likely due to a text messaging conversation being conducted by the GMC pickup driver, which resulted in his failure to notice and react to a Volvo tractor that had slowed or stopped in response to a queue that had developed in a work zone. The second collision, between the lead school bus and the GMC pickup, was the result of the bus driver's inattention to the forward roadway, due to excessive focus on a motorcoach parked on the shoulder of the road. The final collision was due to the driver of the following school bus not maintaining the recommended minimum distance from the lead school bus in the seconds preceding the accident. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the lack of forward collision warning systems on the two school buses.



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