Highway Accident Report

Adopted: October 18, 1983
FEBRUARY 28, 1983

NTSB Number: HAR-83/04
NTIS Number: PB83-916204


Between 1:30 p.m. and 1:55 p.m., e.s.t., on February 28, 1983, a grass fire of an undetermined origin was ignited in the gore area between the southbound exit ramp from Interstate Route 75 (1-75) to U.S. Route 27 and the southbound lanes of I-75. The fire burned rapidly, and a strong wind from the south-southwest fanned dense smoke across the southbound lanes of I-75. About 2 p.m., the smoke reduced visibility for a 200- to 300-foot stretch of the roadway from near zero to about 40 to 60 feet. Approaching drivers had a clear view of the smoke cloud for over 2 miles before entering the smoke, but they responded with diverse assumptions and drove into and through the smoke at a wide range of speeds. At least 22 vehicles, including three combination vehicles, all traveling south on I-75, entered the cloud of smoke and were involved in multiple vehicle collisions. Vehicle fuel tanks were breached and a gasoline fed fire erupted. Fourteen vehicles, including all three combination vehicles, were burned. In addition to extensive property damage being caused, 5 vehicle occupants were killed and 36 were injured. At least three rescuers suffered thermal injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the failure of most of the involved drivers to exercise proper judgment and due caution when confronted by a cloud of dense smoke blanketing the highway. Contributing to the accident was the extremely limited visibility within the smoke cloud and the widely varying speeds at which different vehicles entered and were being driven through the smoke cloud. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the breach of fuel system integrity in a number of vehicles and the resultant vehicle fires.


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

to the National Safety Council:

Develop and include in the Safety Council’s driver training textbooks and defensive driving training programs advice, such as appears in the South Carolina Driver's Guide, as to the hazards presented by highways blanketed with smoke and what actions the motorists should take if they am suddenly confronted with such a situation. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-84-01)

to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators:

Urge its members to develop and include in their own State Driver Manuals advice, such as appears in South Carolina State Driver's Guide, concerning the hazards presented by highways blanketed with smoke and what actions the motorists should take if they are suddenly confronted with such a situation. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-84-02)

to the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association:

Review current state-of-the-art technology related to motor vehicle fuel systems and determine which elements of that technology might be used in the design, engineering, placement in the vehicle, and protection of fuel system components to reduce breaches of the fuel system and to minimize fuel spillage if the fuel system is breached. Consider high-speed impacts and underride/override impact dynamics in selecting effective countermeasures. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-84-03)

After selecting the technology to enhance fuel system integrity, strongly encourage all Association members to employ that technology in the manufacture of motor vehicles. (Class II, Priority Action) (H-84-04)