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Intersection Design Examined In Wake of Tragic Georgia Bus Accident

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National Transportation Safety Board investigators are focusing on dangerous highway design in their search for the cause of the tragic Georgia bus accident that took the lives of four students, the bus driver and the driver’s wife on March 2, 2007 when the driver apparently mistook an exit ramp in Atlanta as a regular traffic lane. The bus drove up the exit ramp and slammed into a barrier at an intersection and overturned, falling 30 feet onto a highway below. Hurt in the accident were twenty nine other students, members of the baseball team of Bluffton University, a small college south of Toledeo, Ohio. The team was headed to Florida for its first baseball game of the season when the accident occurred.

Complicating the investigation is the fact that the driver died in the accident, and most of the other bus occupants were asleep when the accident occurred. However, surviving passengers said that the driver was fresh, having assumed control of the bus only a short time before the crash. There was no electronic recording device or “black box” to help determine the cause of the crash. A CNN animation of the crash reveals a somewhat confusing exit ramp configuration.

One official stated that there is a history of wrecks at the accident site, suggesting that this may have been a dangerous intersection. An NTSB investigation team is looking into environmental factors including signage and highway engineering.

Investigators are voicing highway design safety concerns:

“We know that there have been numerous accidents at Exit 252 for Northside Drive,” National Transportation Safety Board Member Kitty Higgins said, referring to the accident site, where a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane and an exit lane run side by side.
“We are also interested in the history of the HOV lane and exit ramp design and will be looking at the signage, highway markings and other motorist warning devices that were available before exiting at that particular spot.”
There were no skid marks leading up to a stop sign at the end of the exit, police said.
Witnesses said there was “no indication that there was a concerted effort to stop the bus” before it reached the top of the exit ramp and entered the multi-lane bridge over the highway, said Maj. Calvin Moss, commander of special operations for Atlanta police.

Investigators have determined that there was no mechanical defect in the bus that could have contributed to the accident.

However, the accident renews concerns about whether bus passenger protection measures might have lessened the deaths or injuries. At least seven of the passengers were thrown from the bus, including all four players who were killed and two survivors who ended up pinned beneath the vehicle.