Highway Accident Report

Adopted: July 6, 1972
AUGUST 18, 1971

NTSB Number: HAR-72/04
NTIS Number: PB-211597


At approximately 4:45 PM, August 18, 1971, a Datsun stationwagon towing a small U-Haul trailer stopped in the right-hand lane of the two southbound lanes of U.S. 101 about eight miles northwest of the city limits of Ventura, California. The Datsun stopped because of a flat tire, and it could not be moved completely onto the shoulder of the highway due to a temporary, six-foot, wooden-slat fence which was located about three feet off the right edge of the lane. Automobile traffic was able to drive around the stopped Datsun, but a flatbed truck was unable to do so, and it stopped short of the Datsun. The flatbed truck was subsequently struck by a tractor semi-trailer which was moving too fast to stop.

A second tractor semi-trailer with a gross weight of about 74,600 pounds approached the scene at about 50 to 55 miles per hour and was unable to stop. It collided with the stream of vehicles in the left-hand lane and pushed several cars together. Some of the cars were pushed into the median and overturned; others burst into flames from their ruptured fuel tanks. This truck then struck the first tractor semi-trailer and both came to rest in flames off the right side of the highway.

Eight persons died and 11 were injured in the collisions and fires. The roadway was dry; the weather was clear and sunny, and visibility was excellent.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this series of collisions was the stopping of a vehicle in an unsafe position in a traffic lane, which impeded traffic flow, and the failure of a tractor semi-trailer, moving at posted speed, to reduce its speed sufficiently to avoid collision with stopped and slow-moving vehicles ahead.
Contributing factors were the failure of a passenger-car tire, which partially disabled the vehicle, and the reduction in width of a highway shoulder by a temporary construction fence, which prompted the driver's decision to stop on the roadway.

The fires were caused by undetermined sources of ignition of gasoline spilled from automobile fuel tanks crushed or ruptured by rearend impacts; fire was spread and propagated by diesel fuel spilled from ruptured truck fuel tanks.
All eight fatalities were caused by impact trauma, contributed to by the inhalation of super-heated toxic gases from the fires.


The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that:

1. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration continue the commendable efforts exemplified in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 121, effective September 1, 1974, toward more effective braking performance requirements for trucks, trailers, and certain vehicle combinations, not only toward closer compatibility between the performance criteria for truck and passenger-car braking, but toward more extensive use of available technology. Continuing effort toward such improved truck braking is essential in recognition of the basic fact that the potential to inflict destruction and death is proportional to weight, at equal speeds, and that the control of truck speed under all reasonably foreseeable conditions, and especially when heavily laden, is vital to the safety of all highway users.

2. The Federal Highway Administration adopt a Policy and Procedures Memorandum to the effect that (for construction, repair, or modifications), the standards for safety throughout all detours on Federal-aid highways be no less than those established for the highway being replaced, repaired, or modified, or that speed limits through such detour be reduced substantially; where no detours are established, that any encroachment of highway operations onto the roadway or shoulders be indicated by specific warning signs and the speed limit be reduced appropriately.

3. The various States adopt a requirement relating to seatbelt installation and use on all motor vehicle carriers operating in intrastate transport, similar to the present Federal requirements for seatbelt installation and use (MSC Regulations §393.93 and 392.16) on motor vehicle carriers in interstate commerce.

4. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration include in its program for motor vehicle safety standards, proposed rulemaking leading to a standard requiring that the doors of passenger automobiles resist jamming in all crashes below the level of severity adopted for occupant survivability standards.

5. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration extend its proposed rulemaking on motor vehicle safety standards, relating to the integrity of automobile fuel tanks in vehicle crashes, to include standards for the fuel retention integrity of all components of the fuel system which are subject to damage and subsequent spillage of fuel.

6. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration extend its proposed rulemaking on motor vehicle safety standards to include performance standards for all electrical circuits and components (through design, placement, protective covering or devices, etc.) to minimize the risk of undesired ignition of spilled automotive fuels in a vehicle crash or upset.

7. That the National Safety Council, the American Automobile Association, the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, jointly or severally, undertake a program or programs to inform and educate the driving public as to the purpose and intent of Sections 11-1001(a) and (b) of the Uniform Vehicle Code, with emphasis on the degree of disablement which must exist to justify such stopping, and as to a driver's responsibilities to prevent or alleviate the hazards arising therefrom.