(This October 31 story was corrected to remove reference to bus driver probably having sleep apnea in paragraph 5 after NTSB says chairman misspoke)
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal safety board on Tuesday blamed a deadly 2016 bus crash in California on two sleepy drivers and criticized the Trump administration for dropping a proposal requiring commercial drivers to be screened for sleep apnea.
A tour bus crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer on a Southern California highway before dawn in October 2016, killing 13 people and injuring 30, including the bus driver, in one of the deadliest highway crashes in recent years.
“We are tired of seeing commercial drivers being tired,” National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt said Tuesday at a hearing on the crash. “It is predictable and preventable and taking lives.”
Traffic had been rerouted because of utility work and the truck driver failed to resume driving after traffic began moving. The NTSB said the truck driver had likely fallen asleep.
The truck driver suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea while the bus driver had undiagnosed diabetes, the NTSB said. The board said the bus driver failed to avoid the crash because of fatigue.
The bus was traveling west on Interstate 10, returning from a trip to a casino, when the crash occurred near Palm Springs, a city about 100 miles (160 km) east of Los Angeles.
Sleep apnea, often undiagnosed, is characterized by shallow or interrupted breathing during sleep and can leave sufferers fatigued, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
The Obama administration had been considering requiring truck drivers and railroad engineers to be screened for sleep apnea, but the Trump administration scrapped the effort in August.
Sumwalt said it was “unacceptable” that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had dropped the rulemaking and a “slap in the face to transportation safety.”
The truck driver, Bruce Guilford, 51, of Georgia was charged this month with 13 counts of vehicular manslaughter after police said he fell asleep before the crash. He likely did not sleep at all in the 24 hours before the crash and regularly violated maximum driving regulations, prosecutors said.
The NTSB also criticized the California Department of Transportation’s lack of planning for rerouting traffic and called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require a secondary door for emergency use in buses.
The NTSB has said sleep apnea has been the probable cause of 10 highway and rail accidents investigated by the agency in the past 17 years.
Engineers in two recent New York commuter train crashes suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea, NTSB said, including a New Jersey Transit train crash in Hoboken, New Jersey, in September 2016, killing one and injuring more than 100. In January, a Long Island Rail Road train crashed, injuring more than 100 people.
The NTSB makes safety recommendations but cannot impose new regulations.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio and Susan Thomas