Were police wrong to charge the driver of a commuter bus in the wake of it colliding with a school bus? It’s one of two questions being extensively analyzed following the new release of dramatic dashboard cam and interior cam video of the January 10th crash. The other issue in question is the safety of the configuration of the highway where the collision took place.
The dash cam also had a microphone, and the audio that accompanied the video of the crash helps to thoroughly tell the story of what happened. Passengers screamed as the mini school bus and Academy Bus commuter coach made impact on Route 9 North at Acadia Lane. It’s a side street from Route 9, onto which the school bus had started to turn seconds before impact.
The Academy Bus commuter coach was equipped with an internal camera as well, which was pointed at the driver, Daniel Jean Pierre. Passengers were also visible in the internal camera video. The shock and horror are visible in their and Pierre’s facial expressions and gestures as the bus makes impact with the school bus, then goes on to knock over a roadway sign and ram into a tree, where the commuter bus came to a rest, with Pierre’s legs pinned, and 19 passengers hurt as well, some badly.
After carrying out an investigation, police charged Pierre with careless driving and improper passing. However, one safe driving expert, Joe Carella of DriveSafe, viewed the videos and concluded that the charges are unfounded.
“When the school bus driver came out [from the right traffic lane next to the bus lane], he never saw the bus, the Academy bus,” said the 40-year veteran safe driving instructor at an institution that itself trains driving instructors. “That school bus driver should have seen that bus coming,” said Carella. “The [commuter bus] had nowhere to go.”
By contrast, the mayor of Old Bridge, whose board of education owns the school bus that crashed, did not dispute the findings of traffic investigators. “The school bus driver had the right to make the right turn,” Mayor Owen Henry told PIX11 News.
Even though the mayor and the road safety expert disagree on who is at fault in the crash, they agree on one very important aspect of the situation. “Safety will be our number one priority,” Mayor Henry said, regarding next steps his town will take regarding the highway where the crash took place, Route 9.
The Academy bus had been driving northbound on Route 9 on the shoulder, which had been paved as a bus lane in 2006. The commuter bus was moving at 51 miles per hour just before impact, according to the information its onboard equipment recorded. The zone in which it had been traveling just before the crash has a posted 50 miles per hour limit.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation created the bus lane seven years ago, but since the crash last month, it has shut it off, allowing only cars to use it to turn onto side streets. NJDOT spokesperson Joe Dee said, in a phone interview with PIX11 News, that his agency had failed before creating the bus lane in 2006 to enact what’s called a traffic regulation order.
That order provides opportunities for the public to express its concerns about roadway changes to the DOT. Now, seven years later, NJDOT is finally enacting that order and, based on input it receives from commuters and residents, will determine after March 3rd what measures it should take to improve the safety of the shoulder bus lane, or if the lane should be reopened at all.
The road safety expert, who is a veteran race car driver in addition to having trained driving instructors for four decades, was adamant that changes to the roadway have to be made before any buses are allowed to use the shoulder lane again.
“Whoever [created it], DOT or whoever, I think they need to rethink it. It’s an accident waiting to happen. That’s the best way to put it.”