National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, DC - The National Transportation Safety Board today adopted a report on the investigation into two collisions on Interstate 95, the second of which killed four Yale University students.
The accident sequence began about 4:50 a.m. on January 17, 2003, near Fairfield, CT., when a Freightliner tractor flatbed semitrailer slid out of control on a turn, entered the highway median, partially overrode a barrier, and collided with two oncoming vehicles. About 11 minutes later, an SUV carrying nine Yale University students crashed into the semitrailer. The driver and three passengers in the SUV were killed; the surviving occupants were seriously injured.
The Board determined that the probable cause of the first collision was the "Freightliner's loss of lateral stability, probably due to the operator driving too fast for conditions and to the presence of black ice on the roadway." Contributing to the accident, the Board said, was the inadequate treatment of the roadway by the Connecticut Department of Transportation in response to inclement weather. The Board also cited the state's failure to install a median barrier capable of preventing crossovers by heavy vehicles.
The probable cause of the second collision was determined to be the SUV driver's failure "to identify and avoid the flatbed semitrailer due to fatigue, in conjunction with the distraction from the median crossover accident" in the opposite lanes.
"This tragic accident provides a stark reminder of the need to be alert to weather and road conditions and to bewell-rested when we get behind the wheel," said NTSB Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. "Until we heed this harsh lesson we will continue to suffer the needless loss of young lives."
Examination of the vehicles led the Board to conclude that mechanical conditions did not cause or contribute to the accidents. The Board found that the Freightliner driver probably lost control of his vehicle as a result of traveling too fast for the existing conditions of ice and snow on the roadway surface.
Fatigue in the early morning hours was judged to be a more likely contributor to the subsequent accident involving the SUV, as the driver's sleep schedule during the week of the accident appeared to be determined largely by fraternity rush activities. Photometric tests indicated that reflective tape on the semitrailer should have been visible in sufficient time for the SUV driver to take evasive action. Consequently, the Board decided to take new steps to contact student organizations to emphasize the dangers of driver fatigue.
Finding that the condition of the road was a factor in the accident, the Board recommended that the Connecticut Department of Transportation develop a comprehensive program for treating highways in accord with prevailing weather conditions,
Further, noting that the semitrailer had collided with and overrode a 32-inch portable concrete barrier system, the Board recommended that the American Association of State Highway and Transportations Officials establish specifications for the use of high-performance barriers that are capable of redirecting the movement of heavy trucks.
The Board also found that the likelihood of survival would have been significantly improved if the SUV had been occupied by a maximum of five persons, rather than nine, and if all occupants had been wearing seatbelts. Only the driver and the front passenger were belted. The Board reiterated a recommendation to the Governor and legislative leaders of Connecticut urging the enactment of stricter laws governing primary enforcement of seatbelt use.
A synopsis of the accident investigation report, including the findings, probable cause and safety recommendations, can be found on the "Publications" page of the Board's web site, www.ntsb.gov. The entire report will appear there in several weeks.
NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.