Bus blind spot could be factor in collisions with pedestrians

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A blind spot in most common city bus models could have been a factor in a collision between a bus and a pedestrian in downtown Kansas City  on Aug. 19.

The blind spot, created by the “A-pillar,” the pillar that supports the windshield on the driver’s side, along with the side-view mirror, is so well known among bus drivers and trainers it’s even spawned its own training technique to compensate for the loss of vision: the “rock and roll.”

“We teach every operator to rock back and forth before making the turn, and even while they're making the turn, to make sure they're seeing any unseen objects in their path,” Jewell Strother, a KCATA safety and instruction supervisor, explained.

A failure to properly compensate for the blind spot could have been a factor in last week’s collision with a pedestrian downtown, said BJ Garcia, a supervisor of the safety and instruction unit at KCATA. An investigation into that incident, captured on surveillance video , continues.

A similar accident involving a driver making a left turn who was possibly affected by the blind spot occurred in Portland, Oregon in 2010. Five pedestrians were struck by a bus operator who later said she simply didn’t see them in the crosswalk. Two people were killed, and the city’s bus company, TriMet, ultimately settled the case for $4 million .

Independent investigations into that incident cited the blind spot as a factor.

Kansas City’s buses, made by Gillig, a different manufacturer, have higher mounted mirrors than those used in Portland, which shrinks the blind spot somewhat.

Shrinking the lateral size of the “A-pillar” remains a design problem with safety implications not yet solved.

“While the mirrors are a factor, they're not so much a factor as the barrier that's holding the windshield in place,” Garcia said. “I've never seen a bus that doesn't have that design element to it.”

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