Y2018-04 Bus accident leading to four people losing their lives in Kuopio on 24 August 2018
On 24 August 2018, an accident occurred in Kuopio in which a bus leaving a motorway exit fell off a bridge and onto a railway track. Four passengers died. Nine persons were seriously injured and ten were slightly injured.
The bus was approaching a motorway ramp at about 90km/h when the speed limit was 100km/h. On the ramp, the bus slowed down only slightly. When the driver was able to see the intersection, he noticed that his speed was too high and that there were cars in the lane turning to the left. According to his account, upon becoming aware of the situation the driver tried to brake, but without succeeding. To avoid collisions, the driver turned to the right at the intersection.
The speed of the bus at the intersection was so high that it swerved over the central reservation and collided with the passenger cars standing at traffic lights on the bridge. The bus then crashed diagonally through the bridge's railing and, after flying through the air, hit a railway cutting.
The accident had several causes. The ramp was very short and had no signs indicating that drivers should lower their speed other than an urban area sign. In addition, the view of the intersection was hampered by trees between the motorway and ramp. The driver’s alertness was lowered by his state of health and, given this, the heavy nature of his duties. The driver drove the buses of the company in question only randomly, had only a little experience of the vehicle involved in the accident and poor familiarity with its controls. Together, these factors played a role in the entry into a hazardous situation, the failure of actions taken, and the serious consequences. No technical defects that would have contributed to the accident were found in the bus.
Most bus companies do not have documented safety management that would steer safety-related practices. Neither do the clients have the means to make safety-related choices, so the key criteria for an order is typically the price.
The use of drivers that are called to work when necessary is common in chartering. The possibilities for assessing the employee's capacity to work and choosing the most suitable duties for different persons are poor in such a situation. Drivers who work for their own companies or drive in short employment periods will not necessarily receive occupational health care. Their touch in driving and familiarity with the transport fleet may also degrade due to not driving.
The driver had a chronic illness that had not led into any particular action during the driving license examination or during other health care contacts. A deficiency was identified in the driver health assessment instructions, but the small amount of training in traffic medicine received by physicians is the essential problem. Although the assessment of driver health primarily depends on driving license examinations, they do not properly take the special characteristics of the profession into account. Neither will other health care contacts necessarily lead to action being taken even if the driver's profession is known.
The vehicle's fall from a great height caused serious consequences. Some motorway junctions have special characteristics that increase danger. These may include at least intersections that come as a surprise due to visual obstructions, scant indications to reduce speed and the possibility of falling from a great height. These risks may not be identified, particularly with the traffic environment changing with time.
A collision radar and automatic emergency braking could possibly have prevented the accident or alleviated its consequences. Vehicle safety equipment is constantly improving. With the development of automotive technology, the safety of passenger cars has improved significantly. Corresponding improvements are likewise possible with heavy traffic. The safe running of heavy vehicles in road traffic depends on the driver too much, and safety systems are not available to the same extent than in other modes of transport.
The Safety Investigation Authority recommends that
• The Ministry of Transport and Communications draw up regulations helping in the adoption of a safety management system in the entire bus sector.
• The university faculties providing medical training ensure that the basic, specialisation and complementary training of physicians include the basics of driver health. In particular, the objective must be that physicians are familiar with the special characteristics of the driver profession, the driver health requirements and the effects of driver health on safety.
• The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency amend the driver health instructions by adding the identification of hyperglycemia and the measures it requires, particularly with respect to professional drivers.
• The Ministry of Transport and Communications check the requirements and practices relating to the monitoring and safeguarding of the state of health of bus drivers and ensure that the likelihood and consequences of losing the ability to function are managed in the same manner as with other modes of transport. Attention must also be paid to psychiatric health and fatigue management.
• The Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency identify the locations in the road network involving the possibility of a heavy vehicle falling off and plan corrective measures in co-operation with the municipalities and ELY Centres. Such measures include the removal of obstructions of visibility, guidance for a speed suitable for the situation, improvements in the geometry of the ramp and the intersection, and additional railings slowing down speed at various points.
• In its international co-operation, the Transport and Communications Agency actively promote collision alarms, emergency braking systems, lane guards and equipment monitoring the driver's alertness – all equipment that has already become established in the market – becoming common in buses. Due to the possibility of a major accident, there are grounds to require more safety equipment in buses than in other vehicle categories.