MBTA Bus Driver Claims She ‘Sneezed’ Before Crashing Through Guardrail

As it turns out, having an allergy fit is a common excuse for a lot of drivers in major accidents.
Photo via Newton Fire Dept.

Photo via Newton Fire Dept.

The driver of an MBTA bus that slammed into a guardrail in Newton on Sunday, leaving its front wheel hanging off of an overpass high above the Massachusetts Turnpike, allegedly lied to investigators about what she was doing behind the wheel when the accident occurred.

In a criminal complaint filed in Newton District Court this week, police said the operator, Shanna Shaw, of Mattapan, claimed she sneezed with such excessive force that she lost control of the vehicle, causing it to then careen toward the guardrail and crash through the fence. “Because of the sneezing, [Shaw] stated she closed her eyes,” Transit Police said in an affidavit. “When she opened her eyes, she recognized the bus was turning too far left. She stated she attempted to grab the steering wheel to compensate, but she began to slide out of the driver’s seat.”

Shaw told police she had been sneezing all morning due to allergies. And if the driver is to be believed, she’s not alone.

Sneezing fits have been blamed for countless car crashes across the country. In 2012, a driver in San Leandro told police that the reason he rammed into 10 vehicles parked along the roadway was because his car veered right when he had a “sneezing episode.” Police were sympathetic to his excuse, and said the accident “seemed like one of those things that happens when you’re not completely in control of a vehicle.”

Just four days ago, not long before Shaw’s accident, a semi-truck crashed in Indianapolis after the driver said he took his eyes off the road when he sneezed and reached for a tissue. That allergy mishap led to a fiery explosion that shut down a major highway for hours.

There have even been several recent reports across the nation of drivers making contact with other vehicles—due to the brief few seconds when they shut their eyes to sneeze—causing them to kill operators and even strike people walking on the side of the road.

Most of those cases never led to a prosecution or even a driving citation.

Unfortunately for Shaw, however, unlike the vehicles involved in the other sneezing-related accidents, her bus was equipped with the T’s security cameras, so investigators are privy to what actually happened right before the crash. “The video surveillance onboard the bus shows eight different camera angles,” police said. “At the time of the crash, the bus operator…had an item in her left hand, consistent in size and shape with a cellular telephone…the bus operator…had an unidentified item in her right hand.”

At first, when questioned, Shaw said she never had a phone, according to the police report. But after it rang during her visit to the hospital to treat her injuries, she admitted to police it was in her possession. While an investigation revealed that no calls or texts were made after 5:30 a.m. that morning, surveillance footage indicated Shaw was holding the phone at the time of the crash. “A cell phone in Shaw’s hands would have contributed to impeded operation of the bus as the bus was being operated,” police wrote in their report.

Per the MBTA’s rules and regulations, operators are not allowed to have their cellphones with them during a work shift. The restrictions stem from a severe accident in 2009 that sent dozens of people to the hospital with serious injuries after the driver of a Green Line train crashed a vehicle while allegedly texting.

Shaw, an 18-year veteran with the T, faces obstruction of justice charges for allegedly misleading police, and was cited for operating to endanger, speeding, and impeded operation. Multiple people, including Shaw, were sent to area hospitals with non-life threatening injuries on Sunday morning after the accident. Passengers told police that Shaw was driving too fast, which is what may have lead to the vehicle driving off the road.  It took the Newton Fire Department and other first responders hours to safely remove the vehicle from above the busy highway.

A court arraignment date has been set for May 27, and Shaw has been suspended from her job with the transit agency as the investigation continues.