HIGHWAY ACCIDENT REPORT
Adopted: March 5, 1975
SERIES OF MULTIVEHICLE COLLISIONS AND FIRES
UNDER LIMITED VISIBILITY CONDITIONS
NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE, GATE 15 AND U.S. ROUTE 46
OCTOBER 23 AND 24, 1973
NTSB Number: HAR-75/02
NTIS Number: PB-241574/AS
At 11:20 p. m. , e. d. s. t. , October 23, 1973, on the northern section of the New Jersey Turnpike, between Gate 15 and U.S. Route 46, the first of a series of nine collisions occurred. Eight accidents followed between that time and 2:45 a.m., October 24, 1973.
The latter collisions occurred under limited visibility conditions. The conditions were caused by a combination of smoke from burning material in an abandoned garbage dump in the Hackensack Meadowlands and fog.
Although responsible officials were aware of the hazardous conditions before the collisions, precautions to assure the safety of the motorists did not prevent the series of accidents. At 12:45 a. m., officials began to close affected areas of the Turnpike. By 3:04 a. m., on October 24, 1973, the areas were closed. During that time, eight people were killed in six collisions.
In all, 66 motor vehicles were involved; 9 persons were killed, and 39 others were injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this series of multivehicle collisions was the penetration of vehicles into areas of severely reduced visibility due to fog and smoke, the latter occasioned by fires adjacent to the turnpike which had not been promptly extinguished. The delay in closing the affected roadways by the New Jersey State Police contributed to the number of accidents.
On January 2, 1975, the National Transportation Safety Board made a recommendation relating to this accident to the New Jersey State Police. (See Appendix E.)
The Safety Board further recommends that:
1. The New Jersey State Police insure that all Northeast Weather Service reports are distributed, as received, to all Troop D stations and are thoroughly understood by all patrol personnel. (Recommendation H-75-3)
2. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority consider, in the implementation of the automatic traffic control and surveillance system, methods through which the manual closing of the Turnpike could be accomplished immediately and traffic movements deterred safely and without delay. (Recommendation H-75-4)
3. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revise its proposed guidelines, "Thermal Processing and Land Disposal of Solid Wastes, "to include measures to prevent abandoned dumps and landfills from becoming hazards to public health and safety. (Recommendation H-75-5)
4. The State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection revise its sanitary code for solid waste disposal to require owners of properties that contain old dumps to close such sites properly. (Recommendation H-75-6)
5. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission, and the U.S. Corps of Engineers cooperate to eliminate the possibility of fire and smoke from the old dumps within the Hackensack Meadowlands. (Recommendation H-75-7)
6. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration modify Federal Highway Traffic Safety Standard No. 4, "Driver Education," to include more definitive information relative to reduced-visibility driving. This recommendation was also made by the Safety Board in its special study, "Reduced Visibility (Fog) Accidents on Limited-Access Highways," issued in 1972. (Recommendation H-75-8)