NEW YORK — 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 crash 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.
It's too early to know whether any of the safety recommendations would have made a difference.
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-priced trips to casinos and elsewhere.
The bus company in the Bronx crash, World Wide Travel, has no history of serious problems. One exception is in the category of driver fatigue, where it was ranked slightly below average by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, based on some recent violations.
NTSB investigators have said they are looking at casino surveillance tapes and gathering other evidence to establish what driver Ophadell Williams ate, what he drank and how much he slept before Saturday's crash.
State officials told the Associated Press that Williams was ticketed in 1995 for speeding and driving without a license and that his driving privileges were suspended when he ignored those violations. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered an investigation.