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Transportation safety expert weighs in on York County party bus crash

Jim Hall points to speedier drivers when he says American roadways have never been more dangerous.

YORKTOWN, Va. — Days after three people died when a party bus crossed into the path of a tractor-trailer, the man who once led the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) calls America’s roads more dangerous than ever.

“I’ve never seen our highways in a worse situation, in terms of safety, than they are today,” Jim Hall said. “The public is unprotected and we’re seeing that in the record number of deaths on our highway.”

Hall, the former NTSB chairman, pointed to high speed, poor regulation and inadequate funding for enforcement as some reasons why American highways are more dangerous nowadays. 

“Anybody who gets in a fistfight in Norfolk with somebody four times their size, they’d be very careful," Hall said. "Yet out on the highway, we’re out there in our 3-4 thousand pound vehicles, with now a whole mix of vehicles up to 80-90 thousand pounds."

13News Now talked exclusively with Hall in the wake of Friday's deadly crash between the tractor-trailer and the party bus in York County, Virginia. 

The NTSB sent a team of 10 investigators to conduct a safety investigation regarding the crash.

The team included an investigator-in-charge, a project manager, and investigators in highway factors, motor carrier issues, survival factors and vehicle factors as well as accident reconstruction, which was done by making a laser scan of the crash scene and vehicles and will be used to create 3-D models for future analysis of the crash.

There were also experts from the agency’s family assistance division and interviews conducted with several bus passengers.

Past Incidents

The NTSB looks at party bus operations in the same way as limousine services, an agency spokesperson told 13News Now

In 2018, a limousine crash in upstate New York killed 20 people, leaving no survivors.

After that crash, the NTSB recommended that state and federal regulators “require lap/shoulder belts for each passenger seating position on all new vehicles modified to be used as limousines.”

In 2017, a pickup truck collided with a medium-sized bus in Concan, Texas, killing the bus driver and 12 passengers on board.

The NTSB in response recommended that medium-size bus manufacturers "install lap/shoulder belts in all seating positions as standard, rather than optional, equipment in all newly manufactured medium-size buses."

Talking about those crashes, an NTSB spokesperson cautioned that each investigation has its own unique set of circumstances.

In York County last week, a Virginia State Police spokesperson said none of the 23 passengers were wearing seatbelts.

Hall said that will inevitably be part of the investigation, and it’s possible the NTSB will issue safety recommendations moving forward.

“The party buses, like anything else on the highway, can be safe if they are properly regulated and people follow the regulations,” Hall said. “There are things we need to do because when you have a tragedy like this one, and it takes young lives, that to me is always the hardest to deal with.”

The NTSB investigators completed the on-scene portion of their investigation on December 21, and officials said a preliminary report on their findings is expected in the next two to three weeks.

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