Improvements needed in bus passenger safety – Safety Investigation Authority's extensive theme investigation of 668 bus accidents complete

Published 8.8.2017

The first extensive theme investigation into bus accidents in Finland, carried out by the Safety Investigation Authority, is complete. The purpose of the investigation was to identify the key types of accidents and their underlying factors in order to improve the safety of bus passengers and prevent further accidents from occurring. Data was collected from the databases of the police and rescue services, the road accident investigation teams of the Finnish Crash Data Institute, and the media coverage of bus accidents between January 2015 and June 2016. In addition, a survey was conducted on bus drivers.

In the end, the investigation material comprised 668 incidents, which was more than expected. The number of accidents resulting in injury was 90. The number of persons injured during the 18-month review period was high, with 28 serious injuries and 220 slight injuries. From among the counterparties of the accidents, 13 people died, 28 were seriously injured and, 188 people sustained slight injuries.

One of the most dangerous types of accidents is when the bus turns over (19). In cases where the bus turned over, serious injuries were caused to 12 people and slight injuries to 64 people.

- It was positive to find that none of the accidents included in the investigation had resulted in fatalities. However, there is a significant amount of improvements to be made to the safety of bus passengers and bus transport as a whole and means to achieve this. Our safety recommendations concerning three-point seat belts and the campaign to increase their use, which are based on, for example, the catastrophe in Konginkangas in 2004 and the 2015 accident in Karkkila, are still valid. Furthermore, the lack of opportunities to influence safety matters at the workplace felt by many bus drivers, and the time pressure and fatigue of drivers brought on by productivity demands must be duly paid attention to and resolved for the safety of everyone travelling on our roads, says the Director of Safety Investigation Authority Finland Veli-Pekka Nurmi.

More than 100 cases in which slippery road conditions was one of the factors affecting the accident were found in the investigation. Winter tires, especially in the front axle of the bus, can be used to improve the ability to control the bus and thus reduce the number of accidents. Bad tires were also mentioned in the bus driver survey.

- Another safety observation made in the investigation was the deterioration of the ability to function of bus drivers, found in 13 cases. Safeguarding the state of health of bus drivers is vitally important because buses do not have the same safety devices or other persons responsible as do aviation, rail transport and commercial water traffic. Many bus drivers also felt that passenger car drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and other road users do not understand how much room to manoeuvre a bus needs, Chief Safety Investigator Kai Valonen says about the findings.

Safety recommendations for accident prevention

The Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the Finnish Transport Agency issues guidelines for taking passenger safety into account when defining the service level of public transport. The transport service provider must be required to have in place an appropriate safety management system for guiding, for example, the selection of safe tires, vehicles and routes, as well as the planning of work schedules and vehicle maintenance.

The Safety Investigation Authority also recommends that the Finnish Transport Safety Agency checks the requirements and practices relating to monitoring and safeguarding the state of health of bus drivers. Attention must also be paid to psychiatric health and fatigue management.

In addition, the Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the Employers’ Federation of Road Transport and the Transport Workers’ Union examine the problems related to the well-being of bus drivers, safety and other road users’ attitudes and lack of understanding, and also agree on the relevant communication and other corrective measures.

The following recommendations of earlier safety investigations are repeated: recommendation to the Finnish Transport Safety Agency concerning the winter tires of heavy-duty vehicles, and recommendation to Linja-autoliitto ry (Bus Union) on increasing the use of seat belts. According to estimates, only about half of all bus passengers use the seat belt.

For further information, please contact: Kai Valonen, Chief Safety Investigator, tel. +358 (0)2951 50707 (Twitter: @KValonen)