The Megabus crash: Inadequate training and insufficient oversight lead to four tragic deaths

The tragic Megabus accident that killed four passengers early Saturday morning just outside Syracuse, N.Y., didn’t have to happen.

The crash occurred when a Megabus driver became lost along his intended route and was apparently using his personal GPS unit to figure out where to go next. The bus was headed to Toronto from Philadelphia, according to a story in The Philadelphia Daily News.

As the driver made his way in the dark, he followed the GPS unit’s instructions and tried to drive the 13-foot-tall bus through a bridge that was just under 11 feet tall, The Daily News reported. The top of the bus struck the bridge, leading to four deaths and chaos.

There were 27 passengers on the bus when the crash occurred on the Onondaga Lake Parkway in Salina, N.Y., according to the Syracuse, N.Y.-based Post-Standard.  Warning signs were visible and flashing lights that warn of the bridge’s height were operating at the time of the crash, the paper said. This was the fourth time this year that a large vehicle has struck the bridge and been damaged, officials said. Five fatal accidents have occurred on the parkway since 1991, officials told the paper,  but none previously were caused by a vehicle hitting the railroad bridge.

Image credit: ©

The discount bus company has been popular as it has been spreading its services to about 28 cities across the Northeastern U.S., Canada and throughout the Midwest, with super-low fares that can be as little as $1 each way between destinations.  A subsidiary of Coach USA, Megabus began running its services in the U.S. in April of 2006 using a fleet of modern, double-decker buses that have Wi-Fi and other amenities.

While a similar Megabus tragedy hadn’t occurred here previously, there were some earlier warning signs.

On at least four previous occasions, Megabus drivers have reportedly become lost on some of their trips, heading off their intended routes and ending up in the wrong place, according to a related story in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

A light-hearted story in The Inquirer this past July told the tale of one such Megabus driver who was driving his vehicle from Toronto to Philadelphia, but somehow made a wrong turn and ended up in Harrisburg.

It was humorous at the time, but such mistakes are not looking so funny now that four innocent victims have died in a crash related to a bus that was off its intended route.

Yes, bus accidents have happened for decades involving other companies, too, including Greyhound and others. But in this case, it’s not just a case of an accidental crash on roadways involving bad weather, bad driving or even simple fate.

In this fatal Megabus crash, and in the other cases of Megabus drivers who have gotten lost on their routes, the problems appear to be more serious.

They may involve insufficient training of drivers who apparently can’t figure our where they are, where they are going and how to get to their destinations safely with their bus loads of passengers.

They also involve drivers who don’t seem to truly know their intended routes like the backs of their hands.

That would be a much desired trait for a long-distance motor coach operator – to know their planned route backward and forward before they ever hit the road.

In the Megabus crash this past weekend, it is particularly disturbing that the lost driver was apparently using his personal GPS unit to try to figure out where to go to get back onto his route.

Why is this so bad? Because like anyone else using a GPS unit, it can be very distracting if you are reading it, trying to program it or trying to decipher it while your vehicle is moving down the road.

Could the driver have been so distracted as he tried to get his location using the GPS unit that he didn’t notice the low bridge that his double-decker motor coach was about to strike?

Certainly, but only a thorough police investigation will determine what happened on that rural road this weekend that led to the tragedy.

In the meantime, until these kinds of “wrong-way” mishaps stop happening, potential riders will have to ask themselves if cheap bus fares are worth the risks of traveling with coach operators who may not have adequate training and experience to be transporting passengers.

What is also needed is better oversight of these kinds of city-to-city motor coach links, which also operate at discount fares through several other bus companies.

Sadly, though, too many of these kinds of safety factors were apparently left out of the equation before the fatal Megabus crash this weekend.

This was certainly an accident that perhaps could have been prevented with better training, preparation and forethought.

In the meantime, we here at MyPhillyLawyer  send our heart-felt condolences out to the families of the victims who died and to the other passengers who were injured or shaken up in the crash.