Cut-rate bus companies. Driver fatigue. And the need for safer windows and roofs. The New York bus crash that killed 15 people on their way home from a casino has focused renewed attention on problems federal safety investigators have been warning about for years.
The cause of Saturday's wreck is still under investigation; authorities called the driver in for questioning Tuesday. But officials said this much was clear already: Because of past offenses, his driving privileges had been suspended, and he shouldn't even have been behind the wheel.
The National Transportation Safety Board is studying the crash to see whether new safety technologies that are available, but not required, might have made a difference.
For example, there are collision warning systems that alert drivers to obstacles in their paths and tell them when they are swerving from their lanes. The agency has also urged the U.S. Transportation Department to require that bus roofs be strengthened so that they aren't sheared off, as happened to the New York bus when it hit a signpost. Also, a Senate bill that was reintroduced this year would require anti-ejection glazing windows to prevent passengers from being easily thrown out of a bus.
"We've looked at all of these issues before," said Chris Hart, the safety board's vice chairman.
The bus ran off the road along Interstate 95 in the Bronx as it was returning to New York's Chinatown from an overnight trip to a Connecticut casino. In a similar accident Monday night on I-95, a bus that had left Chinatown for Philadelphia crashed in East Brunswick, N.J., killing the driver and a passenger.
Though operated by different companies, the buses were among scores that line up in Chinatown each day for bargain-price trips to casinos and elsewhere.
The independently owned Chinatown buses cater to Asian immigrants and often feature Chinese-language films on trips. They offer cut-rate fares -- gamblers can pay $12 round-trip from Chinatown to the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, and get a $60 bonus at the casino.
On a typical weekday in New York, about 4,000 seats are sold on dozens of such buses, and 6,000 on weekends, residents say.
In the aftermath of Saturday's crash, Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Nydia Velazquez, both of New York, complained to the NTSB that the wreck was "just one example of an industry that in many cases is operating outside the bounds of city, state and federal transportation safety guidelines."