Monday, November 3, 2014

The Deadly Blind "spot" on Transit Buses

It was suggested by member MAX BRT (in this thread) that perhaps a discussion on this topic may be interesting if not beneficial in calling attention to this issue. Being new to this forum, I'm surprised it hasn't already been discussed or maybe it has in bits and pieces.

There have been many accidents involving pedestrians and transit buses making left turns. Many have been fatal to the pedestrian who is legally crossing the street and bears no fault whatsoever in contributing to the accident. Many of you might remember the incident in Portland Oregon several years ago where two pedestrians lost their lives and several in the same group were injured while crossing the street in a marked crosswalk with a green light when a left-turning TriMet transit bus made contact with the group of five (click here).

Now those of you who don't drive buses might ask "how can you not see a group of five people crossing the street?" And even those of you who have driven buses may have their doubts. However, it's been shown that a pedestrian or even a group of pedestrians can get "lost" from the driver's vision when certain conditions coincide ...the position, location, and size of the left mirror, the thickness of the A-pillar of the bus windshield, other transit related items that may be mounted in the area of the A-pillar (such as the radio handset and/or controls, run card holder, microphone stanchion, auxiliary gauges, etc.), the angle of the turn, the speed of the coach, how fast the pedestrians are walking, the position the driver sits in the seat ...amongst other contributing conditions like weather, amount of light, kind of light, light reflections off glass surfaces insider the coach, etc., etc.

I personally can vouch for this phenomenon as I had several close calls making left turns when I drove transit buses. The problems is more dominant for those of short stature OR those who choose to sit lower in the driver's seat. I am relatively short and in addition feel more comfortable sitting lower in the seat. Therefore, my head may be at the same height as a female driver of 5' 2" or less. When I first started driving buses, I wanted to sit high in the seat with a position that put my upper body more over the steering wheel. However, as the years passed, I found it much more comfortable, especially when driving for long periods of time, to sit lower in the seat. The problem of head height isn't exclusively one limited to physically short drivers as tall people who choose to sit lower in the seat may have their head at the same height as shorter people. A co-worker of mine who was 6' 8" put the seat in its lowest position and as far back as it would go and he appeared to have almost the same head height sitting in the driver's seat as that of a much shorter driver.

After over 30-years of driving a bus and now being retired for more than seven years, I still agonize over this issue especially when I hear of another "pedestrian getting hit by a left-turning bus" accident. Were I in better health, I would spend more time and effort campaigning for transit agencies across the country to focus on the two primary issues as I see it: 1) using a physically smaller left mirror and mounting it in a position that is either top-mounted or is mounted far lower in its position where the driver has to glance either slightly upward or slightly downward in order to view the mirror (see examples of the positions here) and, 2) ordering new buses from manufacturers that endeavor to narrow the windshield A-pillar as much as feasibly possible

I guarantee that by doing those two things alone, it would substantially reduce, if not eliminate entirely, the possibility of left-turning buses accidentally coming in contact with innocent pedestrians crossing the street. As stated in a previous post, I had several very close calls making a left turn where a pedestrian suddenly appeared in my visual field and my just about hitting them with the bus. Thankfully I was able to stop before making contact but it literally scared the sh*t out of both the pedestrian and myself. I can still see the look of terror in the eyes of those pedestrians that I just about hit.

The safety department managers at the agency for which I worked insisted that operators bear the responsibility for making absolutely sure that there are no pedestrians crossing the street before making a turn. I can't argue with that. They contend that we should "rock-and-roll" in the seat before and during a turn to make sure we are looking around all the obstructions on the bus that are creating blind areas. I can't disagree with this notion either. As an operator, I tried to do this but I found it is not an intuitive act and found myself not always consciously "rocking and rolling" as I found it difficult to do this autonomously. Added to all the the other things that a transit operator is concentrating on doing sometimes made it even more difficult to consciously do it on each and every turn.

Now I'm not contending that if I had run over a pedestrian with a bus that I would deny responsibility for the accident and put blame elsewhere. However, it irritated me as all that the agency had to do is lower the the position of the left mirror and it would have not only made it unnecessary for me to "rock-and-roll" but would have reduced so much stress when driving the bus if we didn't already have enough things that cause stress on that job!

As a side note, shortly after I retired, the agency I once worked for did in fact retrofit all of their buses with smaller left mirrors and mount them lower in addition to specifying that all their orders of new coaches have these smaller and lower-mounted mirrors done at the factory. Here is an example of what our mirrors looked like before they retrofitted to use a smaller square-shaped mirror about half that size in length. However, the excuses they gave while I was under their employ and complained about this issue were 1) the ideal position for a left mirror is as close to eye level as possible ...not really, glancing slightly upward or slightly downward when viewing the mirror has proven to be insignificant factor and, 2) if they top-mounted left mirrors, they worried that there would be a lot of accidents in the yard as the left mirrors would be the approximate same height as the right mirrors and therefore maneuvering buses in the yard would knock off mirrors as buses are being parked or serviced ...I question that concern too as there have been other properties that have gone to top-mounted left mirrors report that mirror accidents in the yard did not substantially increase.

Also, many agencies around the country have been specifying top-mounted mirrors (click here, here, here, to see a few examples). So progress is being made. However, as mentioned above, I would like to see transit agencies also focus on the other items that add to a driver's visual obstruction on his or her left side, i.e. handset cradles, run card holders, radio controls, microphone stanchions, etc., etc.

Focus on these things instead of spending money on talking buses that announce through a loudspeaker that the bus is turning (waste of money IMO) or holding re-training sessions for drivers on the art of "rocking-and-rolling" (bus drivers do not intentionally "not see" pedestrians for the hell of it) ...yes, some transit agencies actually held re-training classes to "teach" operators how to rock-and-roll. And some agencies even eliminating as many left turns as possible ...I say, not as necessary as one would think.

Sorry for the long dissertation. Getting back to my original post on this board that brought about this topic, TriMet in Portland Oregon, that had that tragic accident in 2010, has been ordering Gillig Advantage BRT coaches that have that "double A-pillar" that necessitates an added sliver of glass that needs its own wiper and in addition, appears not to have made any modifications to their left mirror configuration. Had they ordered Gillig Advantage coaches in the non-BRT configuration with top-mounted mirrors as Butte Silver Bow Transit in Montana, I would have given them kudos for trying to improve the chances of not having another tragic left-turn accident happen again.

I'd welcome any discussion, thoughts, or support. Thanks for reading ...if I kept your attention to this point. :P

Point of emphasis of this dissertation: again, let's push for transit agencies to use either the first or third example ...CLICK HERE for that illustration. The illustration also shows what an obstruction having a wide A-pillar plays in the mix. See this photo for the HUGE obstruction the A-pillar creates on the older Gillig Phantoms in addition to this bus also having a radio handset mounted in the area and its cord dangling there too ...CLICK HERE

Article from the Oregonian newspaper on the lawsuit where New Flyer along with TriMet is ordered to pay the families of the victims in the accident ...the left mirror is mentioned but I'm not certain if that is why New Flyer is involved as TriMet would seem to me to be responsible for dictating to New Flyer on where they want the mirror mounted --the A-pillar is not mentioned: CLICK HERE

Article from a Philadelphia FOX station that sums up this issue and the concerns of drivers there: CLICK HERE

The Deadly Blind "spot" on Transit Buses - General Vehicle Discussion - Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board 


always roaming said...

I invite anybody interested in this topic to follow the thread for which the above narration is the opening post on my thread over on the CPTDB forum. I started the thread because of my frustration at some transit agencies refusing to properly address the issue ...some doing absolutely nothing or still ordering buses with a 15" x 8" left mirror mounted at the driver's eye-level which essentially blocks driver’s the view when making a left turn. Click here for the thread.

Sure, those transit agencies will continue to blame the driver every time this type of accident occurs and I agree, it is the driver's ultimate responsibility for not running pedestrians over and killing them. No matter, people ARE being killed. And you'd think that the transit agencies would want to do all within their ability to prevent these accidents from happening. Transit operators do NOT run over and kill pedestrians on purpose. There is a very simple solution to this problem that transit agencies and their safety officers (and management in general) do not fully grasp. Many of those managers and safety officers have never driven transit buses in service. Please read my comments in the CPTDB thread and I have to believe it is crystal clear that positioning the left mirror so that it will not block the driver's vision is all that it takes to greatly reduce or even completely eliminate a pedestrian getting killed by a left-turning bus.

As I have said over and over again both here and other forums "there but for the grace of God go I" as I came within inches of hitting a pedestrian on two occasions when driving a transit bus. I could have very well been in the local news headlines on those two days but for some unknown reason, I was able to jam on the brakes and stop literally within inches of coming in contact with the pedestrian crossing the street. Again, the look on both their faces’ will haunt me for the rest of my days ...the look of sheer terror that they were about to be run over by a bus. I do not want that fear to happen to any other pedestrian, I do not want to hear about another pedestrian getting killed by a left-turning bus, and I do not want to have another brother or sister transit operator go through the tribulations of what Sandi Day and other operators have had to endure because their employers refuse to address this problem properly.

Thank you.

(Sandi, if you are reading this, please contact me either through Al or by PM on the CPTDB forum. I would like to know how you are doing.)

Al M said...

You really did an incredible dissertation on this topic.

The best I have ever seen actually.

always roaming said...

Thanks, Al. And thank you for allowing me to continue to rant on your blog about this issue. I appreciate your keeping this topic at the forefront.

I'm not sure why I'm so compassionate about all this ...oh wait, it's because innocent people continue to be unnecessarily killed and those transit operators who are blamed for these deaths do not deserve to be entirely blamed!!!! Not only do i not want to see another innocent pedestrian killed but also do not want to have another transit operator go through the grief of being involved in such an accident. It has to be just devastating to the operator --especially knowing that much of the blame should be on the agency they are working for that just refuses to understand the dynamics.

sandi said...

I would like to speak with you
Regarding this topic

sandi said...