Highway Accident Report

Adopted: September 22, 1982
DECEMBER 17, 1981

NTSB Number: HAR-82/05
NTIS Number: PB82-916205


About 7:25 a.m., on December 17, 1981, the driver of a 16-passenger Head Start school van, traveling southbound on a two-lane dirt road near Hermanville, Mississippi, lost control of the vehicle and ran off the right side of a one-lane wooden bridge. The roadway condition on the approach to the bridge was muddy as a result of rain, and there was a light rain at the time of the accident. The van fell about 9 1/2 feet onto a creek embankment and came to rest on its right side. A fire developed in the front engine compartment and, after burning for 11 to 13 minutes, spread through the interior of the van. Five of the 32 occupants of the van were killed and 11 persons were injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the failure of the driver to stop and align the van with the bridge in the presence of adverse road conditions and an exaggerated steering maneuver that was further aggravated by the van tires striking the sides of the bridge running boards. Contributing to the accident was the lack of guardrails on the bridge. Possibly Contributing to the loss of life were the lack of precise Head Start occupant capacity guidelines which permitted an excessive number of passengers in the van, a lack of driver emergency training, and the limited availability of exits.


As a result of its investigation of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that:

the Administration for Children, Youth and Families of the U.S. Department Of Health and Human Services:

Advise all Head Start grantees and delegate agencies of the circumstances of this accident and adopt and emphasize the need for adherence to the policies and guidelines provided by the Pupil Transportation Safety Standard, Highway Safety Program Standard Number 17. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-82-37)

the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Examine the crash performance of vans in rollovers and all accident types, through its crash testing and accident investigation programs, to determine if there is any tendency for doors and other escape areas to unnecessarily jam or be blocked in low-speed crashes. If necessary, establish additional crash performance standards for van escape areas, especially those used for public transportation. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-82-38)

the Claiborne County, Mississippi, Board of Supervisors:

Provide engineering assistance to all public and private schools in the county in planning schoolbus, routes and transportation policies for inclement weather that would avoid, to the extent possible, hazardous or substandard routes. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-82-39)