Shuttle Death Leads to Seat Belt Concerns for SF State Riders
Safety questions raised after a fatal Feb. 11 shuttle accident
February 23, 2005 1:11 PM
The company that SF state uses to contract its drivers for the free shuttle service to and from Daly City BART faces safety questions after a fatal Feb. 11 accident.
Drivers hired and trained by a company called SFO Airporter transport an estimated 3,000 SF State students Monday through Friday between the Daly City BART station and the university, according to Capt. Amalia Borja of the university's Department of Public Safety.
Fifty-seven-year-old Lynne de Matties was killed instantly when her shuttle bus struck a concrete support column on Interstate 280, ejecting her onto the freeway. The 21-seat bus, owned and operated by SFO Airporter, was traveling between the airport and a downtown hotel at the time of the accident.
The crash injured six other passengers including de Matties' husband, who lost two fingers in the crash.
California Highway Patrol officials said they suspect the driver, Melvin Leon Simpson, the older brother of O.J. Simpson, fell asleep at the wheel shortly before the crash that killed de Matties. None of the passengers were wearing seat belts, as the California State Vehicle Code requires safety belts in passenger cars, but not buses.
SF State theater and dance major Anna Sarao, 28, rides the SF State shuttle to and from school everyday, and said she's noticed some safety issues.
“There's no safety, no safety at all,” said Sarao. “There's no seatbelts, you're just holding on to other passengers.”
Sarao said she's concerned about the amount of people that are packed into the shuttles at one time, and a lack of enforced rules.
“There are not really any rules at all except get on and get off,” said Sarao. “They pack a lot of people in.
”Sometimes it seems like 50 people. I don't think we should even be standing in here.”
Sarao said she feels that the drivers for the most part drive safely, “but I would say there's a couple (of drivers) that cut people off and will brake instantly, knowing there are people packed in here.”
When asked if SF State students would actually wear seatbelts during the relatively short rides to and from campus, Sarao replied, “you're always going to have people that don't care, but I think a majority of people would wear them.”
But starting July 1, all newly manufactured buses in California will be required to have pelvic and upper torso restraint systems at every seat. The current SF State shuttles only have belts for passengers using wheelchairs.
The university purchased two new shuttles in January 2004 and is expecting delivery of two more in April, according to Borja. Purchasing the shuttles before July 1 means that they will not be required to have seat belts.
April would be three months shy of July 1, after which the Vehicle Code requires that all new shuttles have seatbelts.
“They're not going to require it for older buses,” said Bill Ashbury, the campus shuttle supervisor for UCSF. “It's like a grandfather clause.”
The 22-passenger UCSF shuttles transport about 7,000 students daily throughout the city, on 30 shuttles the university has running simultaneously, according to Ashbury. Both school must submit to a CHP inspection every year, according to Ashbury.
“They check to see if we work our drivers too much, when they work, the safety equipment on the shuttle, and the overall safety of the shuttle,” said Ashbury.
Ashbury said that if CHP discovers a safety issue on a shuttle, they make a note of it but they don't check to see if the problem is fixed until the inspection the following year.
“I'm kind of amazed they don't bug us more,” said Ashbury. “They don't even require proof of training (for the drivers). But I think it's because we're (SF) State and we don't get many complaints.”
Shuttle drivers for SF State go through a two-week SFO Airporter training period, where they receive vehicle and safety training, an accident prevention course, and customer service training, according to Matt Curwood, the director of sales and marketing for SFO Airporter.
“We try to get them in once every six months for defensive driving training,” said Curwood. “But it's at least once a year.”
Drivers are also required to have a spotless driving record and experience driving buses or other passenger vehicles, Curwood said.
“I drove for Tech TV for six years, not one accident,” said SF State shuttle driver James Lawler. “Then my first month here I had two accidents. The traffic (around SF State) is terrible, especially on Tapia Street,” Lawler said.
“It was just a scrape on the side, no one was injured,” said Lawler. The other accident occurred when another vehicle struck Lawler's shuttle as he was turning into BART, he said.
According to Borja, all the accidents involving SF State shuttles in the last few years have been “minor fender benders,” and in all cases, she added, “the shuttle bus drivers have not been at fault.”
Nick Cox, 23, a broadcasting major, rides the shuttle four days a week and says he feels pretty safe. “They're safer now,” said Cox “They have handles and shit to hold onto. They didn't have that before.”
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