Highway Accident Report

Adopted: June 10, 1981
MULTIPLE-VEHICLE COLLISIONS
AND FIRE IN FOG
INTERSTATE 15
NEAR SAN BERNARDINO, CALIFORNIA
NOVEMBER 10, 1980

NTSB Number: HAR-81/02
NTIS Number: PB81-218869


SYNOPSIS

About 7:25 a.m. on November 10, 1980, southbound traffic on Interstate Route 15 suddenly encountered dense fog north of the Highland Avenue offramp near San Bernardino, California, that reduced visibility to between zero and 50 feet. Drivers, whose vehicles were traveling 55 mph on the well-maintained, eight-lane, divided highway, said the visibility obscurement was immediate and unexpected. Some drivers slowed their vehicles partially as they entered the fogbank and others did not. A tractor-trailer combination vehicle braked suddenly to avoid a small car that changed lanes in front of it, and a pickup truck struck the trailer from the rear. This initiated a chain of collisions that involved at least 24 vehicles over a period of 5 to 10 minutes within a distance of 450 feet and resulted in 7 fatalities, 17 injuries, and extensive damage to all vehicles.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this multiple-vehicle accident was the failure of the drivers of many of the vehicles involved to reduce speed as necessary to be able to stop in distances compatible with visibility which was severely restricted by dense fog. The initial collision occurred when a tractortrailer was rear-ended after its driver braked abruptly to avoid hitting an unidentified car which changed lanes immediately in front of the truck. Contributing to the severity of the consequences was the extremely varied sizes and weights of the vehicles in the collisions.

RECOMMENDATIONS

As a result of its investigation of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board reiterates the following recommendation made to the NHTSA as a result of an earlier fog accident investigation:

Initiate (through an appropriate demonstration project) a program and procedures for minimizing the likelihood of catastrophic chain-reaction collisions on high-speed, multi-laned highways in adverse weather or visibility conditions; such program to consider, among others, requirements to: (1) segregate heavy vehicles from light vehicles by assigned use of lanes whenever safe speed is below posted speed; (2) forbid overtaking and passing by heavy vehicles; (3) use of four-way flashers by all vehicles; (4) prohibit stopping on the traveled portion of highways (unless conditions will not permit otherwise); and (5) evacuate stopped vehicles under certain conditions. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-71-17)

This recommendation is in an "Open--Acceptable Action" status.

As a further result of its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board also made these recommendations:

to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Consider the circumstances of this and other similar limited-visibility accidents and develop a strategy such as that recommended in Safety Board Recommendation H-71-17 for inclusion in Highway Safety Program Standard No. 4, "Driver Education," to inform motorists faced with adverse, limited-visibility driving conditions about the safest actions to take to protect themselves from injury. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-81-26)

In developing the new standard related to Rear Underride Protection as proposed in KHTSA Docket No. 1-11, Notice 07, of January 8, 1981, incorporate the specification modifications submitted by Safety Board letter dated April 18, 1981, to the Docket. (Class I, Urgent Action) (H-81-27)

to the State of California:

Encourage the California Highway Patrol to extend its communication facilities throughout the State and to monitor National Weather Service or local or regional weather forecasting services regularly to obtain advance warning of weather changes that may seriously affect traffic movement and to provide adequate leadtime for implementing contingency plans. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-81-28)

Identify areas throughout the State having a high potential for experiencing adverse weather conditions (fog, snow, sand, or dust storms, etc.) that may seriously affect major highway routes and/or traffic corridors. Develop contingency plans similar to the Riverside plan for those areas to warn and to guide traffic through affected areas, to redeploy personnel resources, and to notify other government agencies should weather conditions reach the plan implementation threshold. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-81-29)

Evaluate accidents involving vehicles transporting loads of aluminum and other metal products to determine if such accidents and any attendant injuries could be prevented or their severity reduced by requiring such products to be secured so as to meet the securement requirements for steel products contained in Title 13 of the California Administrative Code. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-81-30)