Highway Accident Report

Adopted: September 21, 1972
JUNE 4, 1971

NTSB Number: HAR-72/05
NTIS Number: PB-213129


At about 8:00 p.m., on June 4, 1971, a 1961 Volkswagen two-door sedan, traveling west on U. S. Highway 78 (Old Georgia Route 8), crossed over the centerline of the two-lane highway and collided head on with an eastbound tractor semi-trailer transporting a 25,414-pound cargo of explosives. Both vehicles were traveling at about 40 m.p.h. before impact. Fire broke out immediately along the left side of the tractor and in front of the trailer. Firemen arrived at the scene shortly thereafter and tried to put out the fire while the truckdriver tried to persuade bystanders to move from the burning wreckage. The cargo detonated about 10 or 15 minutes after the collision.

The automobile driver apparently was fatally injured in the collision. The truckdriver was not injured. Both drivers were alone in their vehicles. Two firemen, a wrecker driver, and two bystanders died as a result of the explosion. Thirty-three people were injured and property damage was estimated in excess of one million dollars.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the collision was that the automobile crossed over into the opposing lane of traffic and collided with the oncoming tractor semi-trailer, which was carrying a cargo of explosives. Fire broke out due to fuel loss from the automobile fuel tank and leakage from the truck's diesel fuel tanks.
The cause of the explosion was localized heat on the nitroglycerin- based dynamite. The explosion caused extensive property damage.

Contributing causes to the fatalities and injuries were: (1) a warning system that did not advise everyone within the danger range of the nature of the hazards; (2) the decision of the firemen to try to contain the hazardous fire; (3) the failure to notify emergency service personnel promptly and accurately of the hazards involved so that authoritative crowd-control measures could be taken; and (4) the inquisitive nature of bystanders and their partial disregard or lack of understanding of the truckdriver's warnings.


The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that:

1. The Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety in the Federal Highway Administration of the Department of Transportation, and the Office of Hazardous Materials in the Department of Transportation initiate appropriate action to develop standards for mandatory installation of fire barriers in trucks or trailers used to transport Class "A" explosives or other hazardous, heat-sensitive materials. Such standards should apply to future vehicles and, by retrofit, to present vehicles. (Recommendation H-72-31)

2. The Bureau of Motor Carrier Safetymodify Section 393.65 of the Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (as revised 2A-72) to eliminate the fuel crossover line and other lines and fittings which are subject to damage, as a result of their exposed location on the bottom of tanks close to the road. (Recommendation H-72-32)

3. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration include in all future Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that are applicable, requirements to eliminate fuel crossover lines and any other lines and fittings which may be subject to damage, as a result of their exposed location on the bottoms of fuel tanks close to the road. (Recommendation H-72-33)

4. The Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration develop regulations and standards to establish road clearance specifications for fuel systems to protect them from road damage as a result of tire failures or normal driving operations. (Recommendation H-72-34)

5. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) develop new guidelines dealing with explosives in emergencies and bring them to the attention of emergency service personnel at all levels. These guidelines should be based on the NFPA Document entitled Fire Protection for Chemicals and published separately with special emphasis placed on:

6. The Office of Hazardous Materials (OHM) study warning-system deficiencies demonstrated in this accident. The proposal for a Hazard Information System issued by OHM on June 16, 1972 should be carefully reviewed to insure that warnings of impending danger and advice are given in an understandable manner to the general public as well as to emergency personnel. The capability of the system to warn those at a distance should be equal to the range of the hazard and should not rely on the physical condition of the driver. The system should function under all weather conditions and the range of warning should be specified by regulations. (Recommendation H-72-36)

7. The Office of Hazardous Materials in cooperation with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, the American Automobile Association, the North American Professional Drivers Association, and the National Safety Council provide information on precautions the public should take when confronted with hazardous materials in highway accidents. These agencies should have this information incorporated into driver-education curricula and driver licensing examinations and they should disseminate the information periodically as a public service. (Recommendation H-72-37)

8. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration modify Driver Education Standard N-4 to include the same precautionary information. (Standard N-4 of Proposed rule making, Highway Safety Program Standards - Docket No. 72-13, August 3, 1972). (Recommendation H-72-38)