crime

2 bus company execs go on trial over 2016 fatal crash in Nagano

11 Comments

The president of a bus company and another executive charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury went on trial on Thursday over a fatal bus crash that claimed the lives of 13 passengers and two drivers in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, on Jan 15, 2016.

Misaku Takahashi, 60, president of Tokyo-based bus company ESP, and Tsuyoshi Arai, 53, operations manager, entered a plea of not guilty during the opening session at the Nagano District Court, Fuji TV reported. Their lawyers said they could not have foreseen the accident.

The charter bus from Tokyo careened off a road at 2 a.m. while traveling downhill in Karuizawa, killing 13 students, the 65-year-old driver, Hiroshi Tsuchiya, and a relief driver. Twenty-six other students were injured.

A transport ministry commission that investigated the accident pinned the blame squarely on the driver, saying he lost control of the bus after allowing it to gain speed by driving downhill with hardly any application of the brakes. Prosecutors say Tsuchiya was not an experienced large bus driver and that Takahashi and Arai were negligent for not ensuring that he was qualified to drive large buses.

Based on its findings from a simulated crash and roadside camera footage, the commission concluded that the bus was traveling downhill for about one kilometer with hardly any engine or foot braking. The bus eventually went off the road after failing to negotiate a left curve at a speed of 95 km per hour, far above the speed limit in the area.

The commission said in a report that ESP increased the risk of accidents involving its drivers by not ordering them to take regular health checks or conducting roll calls before they set off.

While the commission called for the transport ministry to increase its checks on bus operators, the ministry has already toughened its supervision of charter bus operators, now requiring them to renew their business permits every five years.

© Japan Today

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Takahashi and Arai were negligent for not ensuring that he was qualified to drive large buses.

Boris , take heed, you want HGV drivers without training to deliver goods in time for Xmas, an accident waiting to happen

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Prosecutors say Tsuchiya was not an experienced large bus driver 

Either he was certified or he wasn't. Why is this a subject of argument? Assuming the driver was certified, I can understand why the execs made the rare move and pleaded not guilty. Japanese criminal "justice" is more about retribution for victims than about justice. That they're willing to destroy the lives of innocent people is really scary.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is a complicated case. Presumably the guy had a large Type 2 license, so he was "qualified" to drive the bus. The question is whether he had health problems the company should have picked up on. If the guy had a stroke or heart attack while driving, it seems harsh to call it negligence.

Note also that the bus was only on that twisty downhill road because it had left its original route on the expressway. This is because it was ahead of schedule, and was not allowed to arrive early at the ski resort where it was headed. Sending buses onto alternate routes simply to waste time (save expressway fees?) strikes me as adding unnecessary risk to journeys.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Note also that the bus was only on that twisty downhill road because it had left its original route on the expressway. This is because it was ahead of schedule, and was not allowed to arrive early at the ski resort where it was headed.

Is that for real? That is so dumb, but I believe it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"...was not allowed to arrive early at the ski resort where it was headed."

Does the culpability lie with the resort operator for not allowing early arrivals? I assume that would be part of the defense arguments.

In any case, the drivers are dead, who traveled way faster than the speed limit on a windy road and didn't use their brakes, and the prosecutors need someone (living) to blame.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The driver normally drove a much smaller bus (possibly with an automatic transmission) and was not familiar with the equipment. As such, he made an elementary error of attempting to downshift on a downgrade, and the transmission became stuck in neutral between gears. This is why engine braking was not possible, and vehicular speed continued to increase as soon as the brakes overheated. Every experienced driver of heavy vehicles, operating a multi-range manual transmission knows that descending a steep gradient should always be performed in the SAME GEAR as climbing that same gradient.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Japanese wiki on this is detailed and describes the circumstances and legality of route changes. In the wiki, the President is quoted as.

同社の社長は「経費削減のために下を走れということはないが、目的地に早く着きすぎないよう一般道を使うことはある」と話している

"We wouldn't leave the highway just to save on tolls, but we sometimes use regular roads to avoid arriving too early."

Depending on snow clearing etc., it is easy to imagine a ski resort regarding a third-party bus in their car park as "meiwaku" (troublesome). I suppose the reality is that if you let one do it, they will all do it. Any overnight tour from a big city to a Nagano/Niigata resort, here it was Madarao, should only take four or five hours with a clear run. It may take longer due to bad winter weather etc. and I guess allowances are made, but I would imagine the main reason is that "overnight" is fixed regardless of the distance travelled.

The wiki also goes into the economics of bus tours, fierce competition and lots of subcontracting to minor players having to work at well below standard rates, and the training the driver was given.

https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%BB%BD%E4%BA%95%E6%B2%A2%E3%82%B9%E3%82%AD%E3%83%BC%E3%83%90%E3%82%B9%E8%BB%A2%E8%90%BD%E4%BA%8B%E6%95%85

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If they have high enough connections inside and outside of the transport ministry, they should get suspended sentences. Depends on who and how well they greased.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Note also that the bus was only on that twisty downhill road because it had left its original route on the expressway. This is because it was ahead of schedule, and was not allowed to arrive early at the ski resort where it was headed.

If he was ahead of time, why not pull over in an SA/PA and let everyone off to stretch their legs or go for a whizz? Certainly, there was no need to take the bus down the mountain on two wheels...

As such, he made an elementary error of attempting to downshift on a downgrade, and the transmission became stuck in neutral between gears.

How do you get stuck in neutral? Drop the clutch, put it in an appropriate gear, drive. Unless he burnt out the clutch trying to engine brake without throwing the con-rods.

And, as a side note, why do public service vehicles here in Japan still use manual transmissions? It's 2021 FFS - even back in the 1970s contemporary British buses were using semi-automatic "self-changing" gears; by the 1990s they had all gone fully auto. And yet 50 years later, here in Japan... is there an embargo on Voith and ZF transmissions?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

That was almost 6 years ago.

Could you hurry up and hold those people accountable.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I had not yet heard about this bus crash back in 2016. Reading a separate article about it from years ago, I do find it hopeful that this case is actually going to trial now after all these years. These two being charged with professional negligence which resulted in death and injury that claimed the lives of 13 passengers, 65-year-old driver (Hiroshi Tsuchiya) and a relief driver- along with twenty-six other students being severely injured is a horrific story. The blame is on the driver who supposedly was not that experienced with driving a large bus, and the people who allowed him to have the qualifications to drive that bus. The driver was going downhill without any break action, and resulted in him losing control and veering off the road. It’s hard to say for me, because this accident basically happened in the middle of the night which was around 2am. Who knows what was going on in his head, he could have been very tired and just not as aware as he would have been in the daytime. This is no excuse but was it really in his power to foresee this accident? Could it have been anybody had they been in his same position? It’s hard to say

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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