The Legal Examiner Mark The Legal Examiner Mark The Legal Examiner Mark search twitter facebook feed linkedin instagram google-plus avvo phone envelope checkmark mail-reply spinner error close
Skip to main content

September 11, 2010

Four people are dead and more than a dozen injured after a double-decker Megabus slammed into a railroad overpass while traveling on the roadway below, outside Syracuse, NY reported

The Megabus, operated by Coach USA and carrying 27 passengers, left Philadelphia at 10 p.m. on Friday headed for Toronto with stops in Syracuse and Buffalo.

About 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, the Megabus enroute from Philly to Syracuse was on the Onondaga Lake Parkway when it smashed into the railroad overpass because at 13 feet tall, it was too tall for the bridge’s 10 ft 9 in clearance. The bus then flipped onto its side, tossing passengers around inside.

The bus driver was lost and looking for the Regional Transportation Center on Park Street when the accident occurred.

Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh released the identities of three passengers killed as Kevin Coffey, 19, of Manhattan, KS, Ashwani Mehta, 39, of India and Rev. Benjamin Okerie, 35, of Malaysia. The name of the fourth passenger, a woman 18 years of age, is withheld pending identification by her family.

"Obviously the driver didn’t see the signs or didn’t realize the height of his bus, that the double-decker bus wouldn’t fit under that bridge," Walsh told CNN affiliate YNN.

A flashing yellow light alerts drivers to the low clearance of the overpass.

All passengers killed and those who were most seriously injured had been traveling on the bus’s upper deck.


  1. Gravatar for Truckie D

    This is a good example of a common type of large vehicle crash - a driver off route, and running into a low clearance structure.

    All states have a statutory height for roadways. In NY, as in most other states, it's 13'6". Some western states are a bit higher. So, in theory, anything under that should be posted as a low clearance, with the appropriate warning signs.

    Therefore, at first glance, it would seem that the driver would be solely responsible for hitting a low bridge -- but there's something else that may have been a contributing factor: *** in New York, clearance signs lie.***

    Pretty much everywhere else, bridge clearance signs tell drivers how much actual space there is between the roadway and the structure. However, New York doesn't do it that way.

    I've heard a lot of reasons why it's done that way - they measure clearance from the curb or the center of the axle, it's the height of the bridge if a train is going over it, it's the height of the bridge at the edges, it's to allow for ice buildup, etc. etc. Whatever the reason, NY *really* needs to correct this problem.

    Then, there are the signs in NY that have the words "Actual Clearance" on them. These signs do indeed give the clearance between the roadway and the structure.

    Given the above, the number of low clearance crashes in NY is not much of a surprise.

    In my experience, almost every low bridge is a railroad bridge. Since it would be expensive to raise these bridges, most places lower the roadway on truck routes to allow sufficient space for a truck to get underneath. If it's not on a truck route, it generally doesn't get lowered.

    In theory, this should work ok, but in actual practice, it's still a problem, particularly in situations where a driver is off route.

    Drivers get lost for a variety of reasons. Poor signage, distractions, bad weather, incorrect directions, and many other factors all contribute to this happening.

    When this occurs, it becomes extremely dangerous. The stress level for a lost driver quickly becomes astronomical. They're trying to find their way back, and then tend towards tunnel vision. When this happens, signs (such as for a low clearance or other hazard) can easily be missed in the frantic search for a way to get back on route.

    So, what should be done?

    1) *Every* structure over a roadway needs to be properly marked, with the actual clearance. This should also include things such as power lines as well, whether it's on a truck route or not.

    2) Clearance signs on structures less than statutory height should have a distinctive, highly visible accompanying sign, with a unique shape, warning of clearances below statutory height.

    3) Low clearances need to be posted *well* in advance of the actual structure, give the clearance of, and distance to, the structure, and should have an "escape route" posted.

    4) Any low clearance structure that's been struck in the past should be mandated to have flashing lights with a distinctive flashing pattern installed on and before the structure. Ideally, any and all such low clearance structures should be so equipped.

    5) All existing low clearances should be removed wherever possible, or the roadway lowered, regardless of whether it's a truck route or not.

    Signs are relatively cheap, and flashing lights aren't terribly expensive either. These could also be done relatively quickly and easily.

    How many more are going to have to die before this happens?


  2. Gravatar for Dan

    You're not suggesting the sign was misleading to the tune of over 2 feet are you? I've seen bridges where they pave the road underneath and don't re-sign the new height, but come on.

  3. Gravatar for Dave

    I do agree with you Truckie D that low clearances should be marked better and much further in advanced and if there is road work done the clearance sign should be changed BEFORE the roadway is re-opened.

    However in this case the driver is at fault 100%, it says that there were flashing lights and the bus was 2'3" HIGHER than the low clearance. There is NO excuse for not knowing the height of your rig and not paying attention to clearance signs especially if they have flashing lights. I don't care if you get off route or not, as a PROFESSIONAL driver you should ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings. I have gotten off route many times and as a new driver it makes me more frustrated than normal HOWEVER it raises my awareness level because I know I am off route and I want to stay safe, not turn down a NO TRUCK street, hit a low clearance area, go over a lighght load bridge or anything else that may "jump" out at me.... Drivers need to slow down, calm down PAY ATTENTION and be safe by choice, not by chance!!!

  4. Gravatar for Truckie D

    Dan -

    Yes, I've seen signs that were very misleading. In NY, it's not uncommon to see signs that are off by over a foot.


    I'm not so sure that the driver is 100% at fault -- although I would agree that it's probably over 99%. The driver *should* know his clearance, and *should* be aware of signs etc. The point I was trying to make, is that in NY, clearance signs lie, and if a driver is used to that, it could be a contributing factor.


  5. Gravatar for Dave

    Yes I totally agree with you that signs do lie, but a whole 2'3" and the fact that the sign said it was LOWER than his height clearance???? I could see if he was driving and seen a sign that said the clearance was 13'3" and he crashed, but come on...If the clearance sign says LESS than your height then you shouldn't risk it, if it were a truck like ours then he would have ripped off the top of the trailer, gotten some greif and maybe fired but a DOUBLE DECKER BUS, that is putting everyones life at risk...I do see what you are saying that they do post signs that are less than the actual height (I haven't had the "pleasure" of going to NY yet) but would you be willing to bet that the sign is wrong by that much and try to go through and risk decapitating your upper passengers?? I don't think you would...

Comments are closed.

Of Interest