Highway Accident Report

15-Passenger Child Care Van
Run-Off-Road Accident
Memphis, Tennessee
April 4, 2002

NTSB Number HAR-04/02
NTIS Number PB2004-916202
PDF

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

On April 4, 2002, about 8:19 a.m., a 15-passenger Ford E-350 van, driven by a 27- year-old driver and transporting six children to school, was southbound in the left lane of Interstate 240 in Memphis, Tennessee. The van was owned and operated by Tippy Toes Learning Academy, a private child care center. A witness driving behind the van stated that the vehicle was traveling about 65 mph when it drifted from the left lane, across two other lanes, and off the right side of the roadway. She said that she did not see any brake lights. The van then overrode the guardrail and continued to travel along the dirt and grass embankment until the front of the van collided with the back of the guardrail and a light pole. The rear of the van rotated counterclockwise and the front and right side of the van struck the bridge abutment at the Person Avenue overpass before coming to rest. The driver was ejected through the windshield and sustained fatal injuries. Four of the children sustained fatal injuries, and two were seriously injured.

The Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the absence of oversight by Tippy Toes Learning Academy and the driver?s inability to maintain control of his vehicle because he fell asleep, quite likely due to an undiagnosed sleep disorder; the driver?s marijuana use may also have had a role in the accident. Contributing to the accident was the Tennessee Department of Human Services? lack of oversight of child care transportation. Contributing to the severity of the injuries were the use of a 15-passenger van to transport pupils, the nonuse of appropriate restraints, and the design of the roadside barrier system.

The major safety issues discussed in this report are child care transportation oversight and highway barrier design.

As a result of this investigation, the Safety Board makes recommendations to child care transportation oversight agencies in the 50 States and the District of Columbia, the State Departments of Transportation, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The Safety Board also reiterates a recommendation to 39 States and the District of Columbia.