Highway Accident Report

Adopted: September 5, 1974
AUGUST 8, 1973

NTSB Number: HAR-74/03
NTIS Number: PB-236267/AS

At 4:30 p.m., e.d.s.t., on August 8, 1973, an automobile carrying five teenagers was driven onto the electrified tracks of the Long Island Railroad by an unlicensed 15-year-old girl. The car's contact with the third rail caused a short circuit and initiated severe electrical arcing. The car immediately began to burn at the front, and the fire spread to the rear. The two girls in the front seat escaped through the right door. Both fled from the automobile and the scene of the accident. The three girls in the back seat died in the fire.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the cause of this accident was the driving of the automobile by an unlicensed and untrained juvenile off the roadway onto the electrified tracks, where it crashed into the third rail.
Loss of life in this accident was caused by difficulty in escaping from the back seat of the two-door automobile and by the rapid spread of fire. The rapid spread of fire was contributed to by the continued electrical arcing permitted by the design of the railroad electrical supply system, which did not assure complete removal of power after a severe short circuit.


The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that:

1. The NHTSA revise section S.5.5.2 of the proposed new FMVSS to include not only a standard location of seatback latches, but also a single, standard method of operation of the latches and a performance requirement that would have the effects of (1) a positive quick-disconnect mechanism operable with a minimum force regardless of the loading being applied to the seatback, and (2) a mechanism to latch seatbacks in the forward position. (Recommendation H-74-25)

2. The NHTSA require fixed placards to be placed on the back of the front seats of two-door automobiles that indicate to each rear passenger the location and the method of operating the seatback latches. (Recommendation H-74-26)

3. The Federal Highway Administration study the hazard that exists due to errant vehicles failing to negotiate turns as the road terminates at a "T" intersection and leaves the traveled way and develop recommended engineering practices or design standards which will eliminate this problem. The study, as a minimum, should review accident statistics and types, location and conditions under which barriers should be used. (Recommendation H-74-27)

4. The Federal Railroad Administration reconsider the. Recommendation made by the Safety Board on March 29, 1972, in the railroad accident report regarding the electrocution which occurred on the Penn Central tracks in Washington, D. C., on May 14, 1971 (NTSB-RAR-72-3). The recommendation stated:

"The Federal Railroad Administration, under authority of the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970, promulgate regulations to cover the operation of catenary and third rail electric power Supply systems when power is interrupted unintentionally or when circuit breakers are actuated by an unknown cause." (Recommendation H-74-28)

5. The Federal Railroad Administration and the Long Island Railroad develop procedures and equipment by which emergency rescue personnel can safely short circuit the electrified tracks when there is a need for immediate power shutdown to facilitate rescue efforts. (Recommendation H-74-29)

6. The National Association of Counties and the National Governor's Conference use the example of this case to bring about the expeditious implementation of the Universal Emergency Telephone Number (911) concept in their respective political subdivisions so as to derive the time-saving benefits thereof. (Recommendation H-74-30)