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Make bus stop safety priority

Jim Hall, Special to the Las Vegas Review-Journal
September 30th, 2012

The Sept. 13 car accident at a Las Vegas bus stop that claimed four innocent lives and injured many more was deeply saddening. Thomas Jefferson once said, "The care of human life and happiness is the first and only legitimate object of good government." As the recent crash exemplified, this is not the case with American government. Due to lackluster bus stop safety standards, the lives of four citizens were abruptly cut short while they were simply waiting to go to work.

According to witnesses, Gary Lee Hosey Jr. was speeding through Las Vegas at nearly 100 mph that morning. His vehicle bottomed out as he crossed the intersection of Spring Mountain Road and Decatur Boulevard, causing him to lose control and crash into a group of pedestrians waiting at a bus stop.

Unfortunately, deadly accidents at bus stops are not uncommon. The previous day, Sept. 12, a sports utility vehicle slammed into a bus stop in Philadelphia, killing two people.

Accidents such as these hurt me on a personal level because I know they are preventable - I'm a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Our government should focus on preventing these types of crashes instead of reacting to them, like we are today.

Commuters waiting at bus stops are extremely vulnerable, and their safety often rests in the hands of the drivers whose vehicles are just feet away. With drunken or texting drivers sometimes at the wheel, the safety of commuters is a real concern.

Bus stops are more than waiting areas for commuters. Bus stops are supposed to protect them - this is why some stops have shelters, and why there are minimum setbacks from roads. But as the recent accidents show, these standards are not enough. Of the nearly 3,700 bus stops in the Las Vegas area, only 1,600 are covered.

While much of the media attention is dedicated to why drivers lose control of their vehicles, the focus should be on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - the federal regulator responsible for enacting and enforcing rules regarding bus safety and the need for more safety regulations at bus stops.

While the government will cry broke, recent legislation provides grant money to improve the safety of public transportation systems, some of which is specifically available for bus stops.

Bus stop safety infrastructure should be similar to that of subway stops. Bus stops should have flashing red lights, just like the Metro in Washington, D.C., which signals when trains are approaching, or a sound system like Chicago's, or more physical protection like the Shanghai, China Metro, which has automated sliding doors at its busiest stops that only open when a train has arrived.

Something needs to change. The status quo is unacceptable.

The accessibility and convenience of our transportation system is negligible if our citizens are not safe while using it. The government needs to address the issue of bus stop safety and take Thomas Jefferson's mantra to heart. Hopefully, it does not take another horrific crash to make this happen.

Jim Hall is a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. He is the managing partner of Hall & Associates LLC, a safety consulting firm in Washington, D.C.

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