Highway Accident Report

Adopted: May 4, 1978
MAY 12, 1977

NTSB Number: HAR-78/03
NTIS Number: PB-282426/AS


About 4:00 p.m. e.d.t., on May 12, 1977, a partially loaded flatbed truck, towing a flatbed utility semitrailer fully loaded with a loader-backhoe tractor, was descending a curved, steep, long grade near Marion, North Carolina, when the combination vehicle suddenly began to accelerate.

The truck-semitrailer remained on the roadway for about 1/3 of a mile and was negotiating a curve when it skidded sideways; the semitrailer crossed into the opposing traffic lane. The loader-backhoe tractor broke free of its restraining chains and vaulted to the roadway into the path of an oncoming van. The truck-semitrailer continued ahead, left the road, and struck a tree. Five occupants of the van were killed and two were critically injured. The truckdriver was not injured; a passenger in the truck received minor injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the loss of braking effectiveness which permitted the truck-semitrailer to accelerate out-of-control down a long, steep grade. The loss of braking effectiveness was caused by inoperative brakes on the semitrailer, which resulted from inept and inadequate maintenance and by the operation of this unsafe vehicle.


As a result of its investigation of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board made the following recommendations:

to the Federal Highway Administration:

"Establish a procedure that will serve to identify all carriers, vehicles, and drivers under Federal Highway Administration jurisdiction. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-78-40)

"Establish a procedure that will serve to inform all carriers and drivers under Federal Highway Administration jurisdiction of their responsibilities in regard to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-78-41)

"Maintain strict surveillance of the Ford Construction Company's compliance with the provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. (Class I, Urgent Action) (H-78-42)

"Investigate and report to the Safety Board on the feasibility of specially funded Federal programs to provide escape routes for out-of-control vehicles along already constructed grades where there is a potential for out-of-control accidents but where escape routes are not justified in strict cost-benefit terms. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-78-43)

"Expedite action to establish a design policy that would prevent further construction of long and/or steep highway grades that have the potential for generating runaway vehicles without providing escape routes. (Class I, Urgent Action) (H-78-44)"

The Safety Board also reiterates the recommendation that it made in Highway Accident Report


"Revise its enforcement policy which now precludes the filing of charges against drivers and carriers in violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations unless they have previously been served with a copy of the safety regulations, to permit the filing of charges for violations under severe circumstances such as preventable, fatal highway accidents. (Class 1, Urgent Action) (H-78-12)"