Job Safety

November 29, 2005

My drive and another drive

My daughter’s flight came in to Oakland, California at 6:30 PM on Monday. I picked her up and we drove the 350 miles south on Highway 101 to Carpinteria. We stopped for a 30 minute dinner and got in at 11:30 PM, 6 hours of driving, no big deal. After dropping her off at school, I thought about driving home to Alameda (350 miles) but, as I began to think about how tired I was, I decided to motel it for the night.

The following morning, as I was leaving the Best Western in Carpinteria, the headline on the Santa Barbara News-Press caught my attention, “Fatigue cited in deadly crash.” The subhead read: “Accident kills man. pregnant woman.”

A Greyhound bus on highway 101 – the same highway I was driving that day – had gone off the road, turned over and killed three of the 44 passengers. Many others were badly injured. Why had this happened?

The bus driver, a 63 year old man named Samuel Henry Bishop, had started his shift at 8 PM on Saturday (11/26/05) in Fresno. He drove a bus loaded with people to Los Angeles. The article says that it should have taken him 5 1/2 hours – according to the Greyhound schedule. So, in theory, he was done with that drive at 1:30 AM on Sunday. I say “in theory” because it was in holiday traffic. He then got behind the wheel of a second bus at 3:15 AM in Los Angeles for the drive to San Luis Obispo. The bus was seen to drift off the road at 7:10 AM near Santa Maria, hit a tree and flip over. The driver had been working for 11 hours at that point. (He may have been driving for 12 or 13 hours if he had to commute to work.)

I know Greyhound has a good safety record. And I know many drivers can work for 11 hours. But, I suspect that this driver was exhausted and simply fell asleep at the wheel. No drugs or alcohol were involved. Holiday traffic is a whole level of difficulty harder to deal with and that may have added to his stress.

Imagine how much harder it is to drive a bus load of people than it is for me to drive my car. And I was tired from half the driving he did. But the schedule speaks for itself and we need to see his shift schedule.

I thought about it as I was driving home. Could BLT technology have prevented this accident? Yes. Had the driver taken an alertness test at the end of his first drive, it is likely he would have been unable to perform near his baseline. Furthermore, if he knew he would have to take such a test, it is probable he would not have even tried it. The deterrent effect of this technology may be its most valuble contribution to workplace safety.