With all the technology available to both vehicles and drivers, one would think that bus drivers could see and react to large objects appearing directly in front of their windshields. But, as many jurors learn, one would be wrong to think this.
Some of the simplest things can ruin or limit one’s vision through the windshield:
- A motorcoach driver babysitting his pre-school son during his A.M. shift stored a box of dry cereal on the left corner of the dashboard. Along with the street-side window post and exterior mirror and mounting bracket, the cereal box effectively screened off a significant quadrant of his visibility through the windshield. Turning left onto a four-lane, one-way arterial street which he had to immediately merge cross (in order to then turn right less than a block further), the driver did not notice that he had run over an elderly pedestrian until he felt the proverbial “pop” as the street-side rear tires crushed her skull.
- In a similar incident of far less severity, a left-turning bus driver’s visibility was impeded by his transit agency’s mounting of a “Clever Device” (a passenger counting device) next to, instead of on, the window. During his turn, this alert driver detected a thud on the street side of the bus, glanced immediately at his driver’s-side rear-view mirror and, spotting a pedestrian just forward of the street-side rear tires, managed to bring the bus to a complete stop before the tires reached her – although the pedestrian’s sprained foot suggests that she either walked or fell into the bus or, as she claimed, its outside rear tire ran over her foot. Given this driver’s extraordinary reaction time, it is likely that he would have seen the pedestrian through the left-hand side of his windshield before beginning his turn had it not been blocked by the now-widened window post.
Flies and Stones
Asked to predict the fate of two prisoners, fellow-prisoner Joseph was reputed to have told a vintner that he would be freed because the fly found in the King’s wine lay beyond the vintner’s control. But he predicted death for the baker in whose loaf of bread the King found a stone. In the Land of Equity, the two bus incidents summarized above might have been so judged.
Regrettably, the U.S. litigation environment lies far from this Land. In the lawsuit surrounding the first incident above, the defendant tendered a meaty, seven-figure settlement that likely meant the end of his client’s business and dreams. In the second example, the dangerous obstruction was institutionalized by the transit agency’s negligent policy-making, specification and installation.
Dirty or Ditzy
Examining the vehicles involved in dozens of crossing accidents, I have occasionally found the exterior side of the windshields dirty or dusty outside the area covered by the windshield wipers. Far more commonly, I have found a band of much thicker dirt lying across the lower edge of the windshield’s interior – a section often harder to reach in cleaning, particularly on some of the newer Type C buses where the lower part of the windshields lie further away from the driver. In certain operations, cleaning the windshield’s interior “falls through the cracks:” The responsibility for cleaning it may not be clearly defined between drivers and maintenance/cleaning personnel, and when drivers have to do the cleaning, they often clean only what they can easily reach.
Examining a bus long after an incident, it is sometimes hard to know how much has been “changed” between the incident and the bus inspection. I sometimes find the buses spotless. Other times, particularly when they have been compounded by police officials, they can be absolutely filthy, inside and out. In the latter case, it is hard to determine what, if any, impact the dirty windshield had on the incident: Drivers who run over pedestrians right in front of them never claim they failed to look. Instead, they always claim they looked but saw nothing.
Dick, Jane and Sally
No transportation provider can guarantee that its drivers will both look and see. But unless its attorney encounters a jury packed with individuals grown accustomed to, and satisfied with, extremely poor vision, the defendant whose driver ran over a pedestrian will pay a steep price for the failure to give its drivers the best chance to do both. Yet jurors will be equally unmerciful when the provider did so, yet its driver still failed to both look and see. When you run someone over with the front of your bus, whether you failed to look or failed to see amounts to pretty much the same thing in a lawsuit. But you can decrease the odds of such an incident occurring by keeping your buses clean and your drivers healthy, alert and focused.