Aloha coach crash may have been caused by driver looking at phone

Driver in deadly Aloha coach crash may have been looking at phone

Remnants of Aloha coach after fatal crash.

Remnants of Aloha coach after fatal crash. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The driver of a coach belonging to the Aloha Bus Co., Ltd. that was involved in a fatal crash one week ago at the Gangshan Interchange, Kaohsiung, on National Freeway No. 1 may have been looking at or for his phone, and thus was distracted for nearly 30 seconds before finally noticing a car in front of the vehicle when it was too late to safely avoid a collision.

According to a source familiar with the case, but who spoke on the condition of anonymity to Mirror Media, footage from internal video cameras reveal that 27 seconds before impact, the driver, Wu Shieh-sung (吳協松), tilted his head down as he appeared to be reaching and searching for a cell phone or related component around his seat. In the instant before impact, he suddenly looked up with a shocked expression on his face and then swerved hard to the left to avoid a vehicle, which investigators estimate was only 1 meter away at that point.

The hard swerve to the left caused the bus to have a catastrophic collision with the concrete median, resulting in six deaths and 11 injuries. At the moment of impact, the video shows those not wearing seat belts, including Wu, being ejected out of the vehicle. Miraculously for Wu, he suffered relatively minor abrasions and lacerations.

When first responders arrived on the scene, they were confused by when one of the first victims of the crash they encountered was Wu, as normally in such crashes the bus driver is stuck in the front seat and has to wait to be extracted. They assumed he had climbed out of the wreckage, but when it became known he had actually been thrown from the bus and survived, rescuers were dumbfounded.

At the scene, Wu claimed that he had taken the evasive maneuver to avoid a car which had its lights off. However, video footage from inside the bus revealed that the vehicles lights were actually on.

Wu is also suspected of driving 120 kilometers per hour, above the maximum speed limit of any stretch of highway in Taiwan. As he was at the wheel during a fatal bus crash, he is being held on a NT$200,000 (US$6,600) bond. He not only faces criminal prosecution but also civil suits from the family members of the victims.

Aloha Bus said the next day after the crash that it would make an initial payment of NT$100,000 to the relatives of those who had died and NT$2,000 to those who sustained injuries, reported CNA.

Also on that day, Transportation Minister Ho Chen Tan (賀陳旦) reportedly wanted to make the wearing of safety belts for bus passengers on highways compulsory as early as October.

While the measure had already been under discussion following previous accidents, Ho Chen reportedly wanted to speed up the changes, which would require all passengers above the age of 4 to buckle up when the bus was using highways and speedways.

The minister was quoted as saying the new rules should be officially promulgated by the end of next month, while necessary fines should also win legislative approval in October at the latest.

Passengers who refused to follow the driver’s insistence on putting on their seat belts would be fined NT$1,500 on a normal road and NT$3,000 to NT$6,000 on a highway, the Chinese-language Apple Daily reported.