Buses are becoming an increasingly popular mode of transportation, both here in Missouri and nationwide. In 2010, almost 850,000 buses were registered in the U.S., which is more than were registered at any other time within the last three decades. During the same year, there were 245 fatal bus accidents nationwide, which resulted in the deaths of 44 bus passengers.
Recently, a bus accident in Tennessee received nationwide media attention after the collision left eight vehicle occupants dead and 14 others injured. According to ABC News in North Carolina, the bus was carrying members of a seniors group from First Street Baptist Church in Statesville, who were en route home from a three-day festival in Gatlinburg. Local investigators say the accident happened when the bus blew a front tire, ran off the road and crossed a grass median on Interstate 40 near Knoxville. The bus then collided with an oncoming SUV and a semi-truck, which caused the semi to burst into flames. Six people on board the bus were killed, along with one occupant of the SUV and the semi-truck driver. The semi was reportedly "burned beyond recognition."
In the course of the accident, the bus plowed through cable guard rails that are designed to prevent median encroachment crashes and absorb collision forces. However, local law enforcement authorities remarked that these guard rails are not designed to handle the weight and force of larger commercial vehicles. "If this had been a traditional guard rail-type system that most people are familiar with, with the big wide metal galvanized steel guard rails, it would have pushed through that as well," Sergeant Bill Miller of the Tennessee Highway Patrol told USA Today. "Guard rails and cable systems are there to restrain vehicles but if it's a dead-on collision into that cable rail or guard rail system, the vehicle will go through that."
The crash is currently being investigated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). However, officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), who would have ordinarily launched an investigation, are currently unable to respond to the crash due to the government shutdown. Under FMCSA regulations, the church bus would not have been subject to the same safety standards and procedures as other kinds of commercial vehicles. Church buses that cross state lines must be inspected every year and registered through the Department of Transportation, but thus far, investigators have been unable to confirm that the First Street Baptist Church bus was federally registered.