Highway Accident Report

Adopted: May 3, 1983
APRIL 7, 1982

NTSB Number: HAR-83/01
NTIS Number: PB83-916201


About 12:12 a.m. P.s.t., on April 7, 1982, several vehicles on westbound California State Route 24 entered the north, No. 3 Bore of the Caldecott Tunnel near Oakland, California. A Honda car driven by an intoxicated driver struck the raised curbs inside the tunnel and came to rest at the left edge of the roadway about one-third of the way through the tunnel. It was struck soon afterward by a following gasoline tank truck and tank trailer and then by an AC Transit bus which subsequently struck the tank trailer. The busdriver was ejected, and the empty bus continued west, exited the tunnel, and struck a concrete road support pier. The tank trailer overturned and gasoline was spilled inside the tunnel. A fire erupted and heavy black smoke quickly filled the tunnel. The tank truck and tank trailer, the Honda car, and four other vehicles that had entered the tunnel were completely destroyed by the fire. Seven persons were killed, and two people were treated for minor smoke inhalation. The tunnel incurred major damage.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was a combination of events involving (1) the erratic driving by the intoxicated driver of a passenger vehicle which stopped in a through traffic lane creating a traffic obstacle; (2) the inattention of the truckdriver causing his vehicle to strike the passenger vehicle; and (3) the busdriver's overtaking the truck too rapidly to enable him to avoid striking the passenger vehicle when it unexpectedly appeared in the path of his bus.

Contributing to the cause and the severity of the accident was the presence of a flammable cargo tank truck and cargo tank trailer in the tunnel and the damage to the overturned trailer which permitted a loss of flammable cargo and a fire.

Also contributing to the severity of the accident and injuries were the lack of adequate monitoring capabilities and variable message signs or traffic signals at the entrance of the tunnel and within the tunnel, and the lack of a communication system between the tunnel personnel and tunnel occupants., which if present, might have facilitated occupant evacuation.


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

to the Director of the California Department of Transportation:

Evaluate and revise, where necessary, equipment requirements and emergency procedures at the Caldecott Tunnel to provide early warning of an emergency to motorists in the event of a life-threatening emergency. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-83-10)

Develop a state-wide emergency response plan and train tunnel employees in all phases of emergency operations, including smoke and toxic fumes management and immediate emergency response notification and periodically conduct drills to determine employees' ability to perform the above operations under stress. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-83-11)

Provide easily identifiable exit markings for adits in the Caldecott Tunnel (Class II, Priority Action) (H-83-12)

Prohibit passing and lane changes in vehicular tunnels in California. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-83-13)

In cooperation with appropriate local authorities, survey all vehicular tunnels, and upgrade, where necessary, tunnel traffic controls, communication systems, firefighting equipment and towing capabilities. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-83-14)

Ban the movement of hazardous materials through vehicular tunnels where the relative risks of the tunnel route are higher than alternate routes. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-83-15)

to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation:

Review the Federal Highway Administration and the Urban Mass Transportation Administration programs that encourage joint use of rights-of-way and determine if construction of rapid rail systems, in highway rights-of-way presents an unnecessary risk to the public from hazardous materials truck movements on adjacent roadways; if so, modify the safety criteria appropriately. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-83-16)

to the Alameda/Contra Costa Transit District:

Closely monitor the health of drivers with known medical problems, and when their health may adversely affect their ability to safely transport passengers, remove them from duty. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-83-17)