Highway Accident Report

Adopted: December 30, 1970
AIRPORT TRANSIT BUS-AUTOMOBILE COLLISION
DULLES AIRPORT ACCESS ROAD
JUNE 9, 1970

NTSB Number: HAR-71/02
NTIS Number: PB-198076


SYNOPSIS

On June 9, 1970, at 4:40 p.m., a 1965 Mercury two-door hardtop sedan, operated by a man under the influence of alcohol, driving west (wrong way) in the inside (left) lane of the eastbound portion of the Dulles Airport Access Road, crashed head-on into the right front of an eastbound 41 passenger 1967 G.M.C. Model 4107 Greyhound Airport Service Bus, 584 feet east of the Virginia Route 7 overpass. Both vehicles were traveling at the speed limit, 65 m.p.h., prior to impact.

After striking the bus, the automobile was driven back 130 feet to the east, pivoted counterclockwise 180 degrees, and struck an eastbound 1969 Ford Econoline Van on the left front side. Just preceding contact, the van, in the outside (right) lane, took evasive action by braking and veering onto the paved, right shoulder of the road.

The bus driver, in the process of overtaking the slower moving van, observed the automobile approximately 1,200 feet to his front, coming towards him in a head-on configuration. The bus driver turned towards the median on his left and applied brakes.

With a closure rate of 130 m.p.h., or 190 feet per second, the bus was not able to complete its evasive maneuver before being struck by the wrong-way automobile.

After disengagement, the bus skidded eastward on the pavement, entered the median, and came to an upright, final position, 278 feet from the point of impact. No fire ensued. Damage to the bus was extensive in the right front corner area and the automobile was destroyed. The operator of the automobile was killed, 14 occupants of the bus and van were injured. One bus passenger died from his injuries 20 days after the accident.

The three accident-involved vehicles were equipped with lap-type seat belts for the driver. The bus driver and automobile driver, however, were unbelted. No passenger restraint system was installed within the bus.

Twelve ambulances, several police units, and two fire trucks responded within 20 minutes. Bus passengers were assisted in climbing out of the vehicle through an open windshield space located at the right front of the bus.

There were no mechanical or tire failures on the bus. There was no evidence of any mechanical or tire failures on either the automobile or van.

The bus driver and driver of the van were sober, awake, and reportedly in good physical condition. Toxicology performed on the automobile driver, during a postmortem examination, revealed a blood-alcohol content of .21 percent.

The weather was clear and dry. Traffic volume on the road was moderate.
The Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was driver error in that an automobile was driven the wrong way on a dual highway by a driver under the influence of alcohol.

Contributing causes were:

  1. The severe impairment of the driver's sensory and motor processes, judgment, and overall driving ability due to the influence of alcohol.
  2. The absence of wrong-way traffic control devices at all possible wrong-way entry points to the Dulles Airport Access Road east of the accident site.
  3. The bus driver's failure to fasten an available seat belt which increased the severity of his injuries.
  4. The nonavailability of a seat belt in the front row of passenger seats of the bus which resulted in severe injury to an ejected passenger

RECOMMENDATIONS

The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that:

1. The Federal Highway Administrator, in the implementation of his notice of November 18, 1970, “Notice of Determination of Applicability of Highway Program Standard to Federally Administered Areas,” should review all current operational and experimental procedures, and urge implementation of those found to be most effective in preventing wrong-way traffic movements.

2. The Federal Highway Administration, as the Safety Board recommended in its accident report, Interstate Bus-Auto Collision near Baker, California, March 7, 1968, continue to stimulate and support individual State demonstration projects in the application of remedial measures to alert or redirect wrong-way traffic movements on multi-lane divided highways.

3. The Bureau of National Capital Airports, the Federal Aviation Administration, in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Highways, implement remedial measures on the Dulles Airport Access Road by installing appropriate signing at all possible wrong-way entry points.

4. The Bureau of National Capital Airports extend the left guardrail on the Southbound I-490 (McLean) left off-ramp to the east end of the gore, and curb the same area to prevent “short cutting” across the gore and subsequent wrong-way entry to the Dulles Airport Access Road.

5. The Federal Highway Administration expand its rulemaking concerning Section 393.93 (seat belts) of the Motor Carrier Safety Regulations in 49 CFR 393.93 to require in all buses, the installation of occupant restraints, active or passive, that conform to the Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 209 and will retain the passengers, as well as the driver, in their seats during collision and rollover.

The Board has recommended in its accident reports, Interstate Bus-Auto Collision near Baker, California, March 7, 1968, and Chartered Interstate Bus Crash near Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, December 26, 1968, that the FHWA consider its rulemaking and pending dockets on the subject of the installation of seatbelts for bus occupants. The present regulation (Section 393.93) requires seat belts for drivers but none for passengers. In the Board's view, a decision to make available suitable restraints which would reduce injuries is not dependent upon a showing that all passengers would use them, nor should it be limited by the fact that past bus passenger seat designs do not accommodate the lap belt type of restraint. The retention of passengers in their seats during the crash phase is clearly desirable, as indicated by this case and others, and making restraints available is a first step in obtaining their use.

6. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the development of its rulemaking related to Docket 2-11, Bus Seats, include the requirement for the installation of seat belt assemblies as well as seat belt anchorages for Intercity buses.

7. The National Association of Motor Bus Owners urge its membership to install, without delay, driver seat belts in all buses and secure their utilization.