`Smart doors' on buses

Anne Arundel: Freak accident at Ferndale depot points to the need for vehicle safety improvement.

October 12, 1999

BUS manufacturers have made safety advances over the years, often after accidents expose dangers.

School bus makers, for example, redesigned handrails on stairs because drawstrings on clothing got tangled in them, killing or injuring children as the drivers pulled away from the curb.

The bizarre death a week ago of Cynthia Marie Sienkiewicz, who cleaned buses at Huber's Bus Co. in Ferndale, brought to light another, even more rare, hazard.

Anne Arundel County police believe Ms. Sienkiewicz, 45, of Pasadena was leaning into one of the company's charter buses to wash the steps when she inadvertently tripped a mechanism that caused the hydraulic doors to close on her neck.

Ms. Sienkiewicz, who also worked as an aide on a school bus for special-education students, was killed instantly. Police were unable to free her until a mechanic activated an emergency switch to open the doors.

Maryland Occupational Safety and Health officials say they had never seen a similar mishap and are conducting an investigation.

The incident isn't unprecedented, however: Last winter, a 50-year-old homeless man seeking shelter on a transit bus in Paterson, N.J., suffocated when the vehicle's sliding double doors closed on his neck.

These were freak accidents, but they may be preventable with the kind of technological innovation that brought improved emergency exits, roof structure, seating and fuel systems to school buses. Smart doors that retract when objects are in their path are required in elevators and subway trains to guard against unlikely horrors. Why isn't there a way for buses to do the same?

Regulators and bus manufacturers should consider using a similar technology to prevent people from becoming trapped helplessly between powerful bus doors.

Pub Date: 10/12/99

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