On Saturday, October 13, 2001, about 2:00 p.m. central daylight time, a 2000 Thomas Built Buses, Inc., 78-passenger school bus carrying 27 Seward High School students and 3 adults (excluding the driver) was traveling westbound through a work zone on U.S. Route 6 in Omaha, Nebraska. As the Seward bus entered the work zone lane shift at the approach to the West Papillion Creek Bridge, it encountered a 1986 Motor Coach Industries 52-passenger motorcoach carrying Norfolk High School students traveling eastbound. Although no collision occurred between the Norfolk and Seward buses, the westbound school bus departed the traveled roadway on the right and subsequently struck the W-beam barrier on the approach to the bridge, steered to the left momentarily, and then steered abruptly back to the right, striking the W-beam again and, finally, a three-rail barrier between the guardrail and the concrete bridge railing. The bus passed through the remains of the three-rail barrier, rode up onto the bridge's sidewall, and rolled 270 degrees clockwise as it fell about 49 feet, landing on its left side in a 1-foot-deep creek below the bridge. Three students and one adult sustained fatal injuries. The remaining passengers and the busdriver sustained injuries ranging from serious to minor.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the failure of the Nebraska Department of Roads to recognize and correct the hazardous condition in the work zone created by the irregular geometry of the roadway, the narrow lane widths, and the speed limit. Contributing to the accident was the accident bus driver's inability to maintain the bus within the lane due to the perceived or actual threat of a frontal collision with the approaching eastbound motorcoach and the accident bus driver's unfamiliarity with the accident vehicle. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the failure of the traffic barrier system to redirect the accident vehicle.
Major safety issues identified in this accident include:
- Effect of highway design, speed, and vehicle handling characteristics upon driver performance.
- Adequacy of work zone safety management.
- Lack of emergency preparedness of students.
- Visibility of emergency signage and exit door levers.
- School bus extrication training.
As a result of this accident investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board makes recommendations to the Federal Highway Administration, Nebraska Department of Roads, Omaha Fire Department, National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, and Thomas Built Buses, Inc.
To the Federal Highway Administration:
Incorporate into the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices the stricter criteria on work zone safety and management contained in the Federal-Aid Policy Guide, 23 Code of Federal Regulations 630J, Subchapter G-Engineering and Traffic Operations, Part 630-Preconstruction Procedures, Subpart J-Traffic Safety in Highway and Street Work Zones, to include continuously monitoring traffic accident experience in work zones to detect and correct safety deficiencies existing in individual projects. Further, the traffic accident reports necessary to accomplish this should be obtained monthly, directly from local traffic law enforcement agencies. (H-04-01)
Require divisional offices to participate in the States' work zone safety inspections and diligently monitor and evaluate the results of those inspections in conformance with the Federal-Aid Policy Guide, 23 Code of Federal Regulations 630J, Subchapter G-Engineering and Traffic Operations, Part 630- Preconstruction Procedures, Subpart J-Traffic Safety in Highway and Street Work Zones. (H-04-02)
Include in the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices a requirement that, for roadways under construction, traffic safety features (such as barrier systems) be maintained at an equivalent or better level than existed prior to construction. (H-04-03)
To the Nebraska Department of Roads:
Initiate a program to obtain work zone traffic accident reports from law enforcement agencies monthly and analyze these data to aid in identifying and eliminating hazards as they develop. (H-04-04)
To the Omaha Fire Department:
Provide emergency responders with school bus extrication training. (H-04-05)
To the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services:
Prepare a report that can be used by the State Directors to influence their States to require pretrip briefings before school-related activity trips on school buses or school-chartered buses and subsequently assist the States in developing criteria for such briefings, to include training all students regarding the location and use of emergency exits. (H-04-06)
To Thomas Built Buses, Inc.:
Ensure that all emergency signage is visible in school buses equipped with overhead luggage racks. (H-04-07)