Details of Budget Bus Crashes Revealed in Senate Hearing

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The budget bus that crashed in the Bronx and resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen passengers was going up to 78 miles per hour when it flipped on its side, it was revealed Wednesday during a Senate committee meeting on motor coach safety in the wake of three crashes in recent weeks.

During the Senate Commerce Committee's wide-ranging hearing, the National Transportation Safety Board gave an update on the federal investigations into the three tour bus crashes -- including the deadly Bronx crash that killed 15. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, who chaired the hearing, also announced regulatory action against the bus company involved in the March 14 crash on the New Jersey Turnpike that killed two.

"The tragic series of bus crashes in New Jersey and the Northeast have exposed serious weaknesses in the safety of our nation's bus system," Lautenberg said. "Just because bus companies discount prices doesn’t mean they can discount safety."

The U. S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration took Super Luxury Tours -- the operator of the bus that ran off the New Jersey Turnpike and struck an overpass -- out of service because it violated insurance requirements, it was announced.

Lautenberg decried the particularly poor safety record of the company and praised the FMCSA's action.

"The bus operator that crashed in New Jersey has a driver safety record worse than ... 99.6 percent of all bus companies," he said.

National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersman, who said the cause of the accidents are still under investigation, said the World Wide Travel bus flipped that on its side and slid into a nine-inch wide signpost in the Bronx on March 12, was going as fast as 78 miles per hour before the accident.

Hersman said the NTSB has so far found no evidence to confirm driver Ophadell Williams' version of events that the bus was clipped by a truck, which caused the bus to swerve and led to the accident. A truck driver who came forward said he witnessed the accident from behind, according to Hersman.

"An NTSB engineer examined the truck, and found no evidence that it had come in contact with the bus," she said.

During the hearing involving representatives of several government agencies, the bus industry, and safety watchdog groups, several of the Senators and expert witnesses called for speedy implementation of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Motorcoach Safety Action Plan (PDF).

Among the safety improvements Lautenberg and others called for are seat belts in new buses and stronger windows and roofs to protect passengers in the event of rollover accidents.

You can watch an archived webcast here.