Honorable Deborah Hersman, NTSB Board Member

CLOSING STATEMENT
Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board
Public Hearing - Rollover and Fire of a Truck-Tractor and
Cargo Tank Semitrailer Carrying Liquefied Petroleum Gas
in Indianapolis, Indiana October 22, 2009

August 3, 2010


Good morning.  I am Debbie Hersman, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and of this Board of Inquiry.

At this hearing, we are considering a tanker rollover and fire that occurred in Indianapolis, Indiana on October 22, 2009 involving a 2007 International truck-tractor in combination with a 1994 Mississippi, specification MC 331, 11,600 gallon cargo tank semitrailer transporting liquefied petroleum gas. This accident and subsequent fires resulted in damage to nine vehicles, serious injury to two drivers, and minor injuries to other drivers.

The National Transportation Safety Board has been concerned about the rollover and integrity of cargo tanks associated with the subsequent release of high-risk hazardous materials for more than 40 years.

Shortly after the NTSB was formed, a team was launched in 1969 to investigate the rollover and fire of a truck-tractor in combination with a cargo tank semitrailer carrying 9,257 gallons of liquefied petroleum gas.(1) At rest, the overturned cargo tank impeded the southbound lanes and shoulder of the New Jersey Turnpike and triggered a multiple fatal crash involving 29 vehicles. The NTSB has also investigated the subsequent release of hazardous materials from cargo tank vehicles that rolled over near Eagle Pass, Texas on April 29, 1975;(2) in Houston, Texas on May 11, 1976;(3) and in White Plains, New York on July 27, 1994(4).  These four crashes alone resulted in 28 fatalities, 270 injuries, and significant destruction of property.

Following these accidents, the NTSB issued recommendations for addressing driver training, highway design, vehicle stability, and the crashworthiness of cargo tanks.  The recommendations included: [status of recommendations below]

  1. Establishing minimum limits of stability and requiring that a numerical statement of stability be displayed on the identification plate of all tank trailers that transport hazardous materials;(5)
  2. Improving highway design and barrier system standards for preventing or mitigating the consequences of heavy truck accidents;(6)
  3. Protecting bridge piers from heavy vehicle strikes and subsequent damage;(7)
  4. Designating and reviewing routes for the transportation of hazardous materials;(8)
  5. Initiating research programs for identifying new approaches for reducing the injuries and damages due to hazardous material release;(9)
  6. Informing drivers of the hazards and correct operating procedures for partially loaded tanks in order to avoid rollovers;(10)
  7. Mitigating driver fatigue through oversight, scheduling, monitoring, and education;(11)
  8. Improving the crashworthiness of cargo tanks used in the transport of hazardous liquids and gases.(12)

Although all of these recommendations were issued more than a decade ago, we will be addressing their associated issues again during the hearing as rollovers of cargo tank vehicles continue to be serious events. For example, while cargo tank vehicles represent approximately six percent of large trucks,(13) they account for 31 percent of all fatal commercial truck rollover crashes.(14) One characteristic that makes cargo tank vehicles more susceptible to rollover is their high center of gravity. According to a recent Battelle study, lowering the center of gravity height of cargo tank vehicles by three inches can reduce the incidence of rollovers by more than 10 percent. (15) 
 
Another factor associated with cargo tank vehicle rollovers is some form of driver error which accounts for 78 percent of cargo tank rollovers.(16) Safety bulletins and training videos have been developed to educate and raise the awareness of cargo tank drivers.(17) However, it is not known if traditional approaches for training cargo tank drivers are the most effective means in reducing rollover crashes, given that 66 percent of cargo tank rollovers involve drivers with more than 10 years of driving experience, it seems that training cannot prevent all rollovers.(18)

The purpose of this hearing is to examine the factors that can lead to tank truck rollovers and determine what actions we can take to mitigate these factors. Specifically, we will concentrate on the following issues for preventing the rollover of cargo tank vehicles and subsequent release of hazardous materials:

  1. The capability and limitations of electronic stability control systems;
  2. The role of driver training and testing;  
  3. Roadway factors;  
  4. Protection of highway bridge piers from vehicle impacts;
  5. Vehicle design changes for improving dynamic stability and rollover threshold; and
  6. Crashworthiness standards for cargo tanks that transport high-risk hazardous materials.

At this point, I would like to introduce the other members of the Safety Board staff. Assisting me on the Board of Inquiry will be:

The Board of Inquiry will be assisted by a Technical Panel comprised of NTSB investigators. The members of the Technical Panel include:

Other Safety Board staff assisting with this hearing are: Mr. Keith Holloway from Public Affairs; Mr. Robert Combs from the Office of the General Counsel; Ms. Avis Clark, who will be handling the administrative matters regarding this hearing; Dr. Robert Molloy who will be queuing presentations delivered by witnesses; and Ms. Cresence Stafford, my Special Assistant.

In accordance with the Safety Board's procedural rules governing public hearings, the designated parties to a public hearing include those persons, governmental agencies, companies, and associations whose participation in the hearing is deemed necessary in the public interest and whose special knowledge will contribute to the development of pertinent evidence. There are nine such designated parties in attendance today.

As I call the name of each party, I ask that the designated spokesperson state – for the record – his or her name, title, and affiliation:

I would like to thank all of the parties for their cooperation and their willingness to work with us in this accident investigation.

The witnesses testifying at this hearing will be introduced when they begin their testimony. They have been selected because of their ability to provide the best available information on the issues. Hard copies of the agenda and witness list, and electronic copies of items already in the docket, are available from Keith Holloway in the press room. 

The witnesses will testify under oath. Each will be introduced by name and any special qualifications he or she may possess for purposes of this hearing. The first presentation will be from the Investigator-in-Charge of the accident investigation, Mr. Robert Accetta, who will summarize certain facts about the accident and the investigative activities that have taken place. The subsequent witnesses will be questioned first by the Safety Board's Technical Panel, then by the designated spokesperson for each party to the hearing, and finally, by the Board of Inquiry. 

I will permit a second round of questions if the record needs to be clarified or if new matters have been raised that require further exploration. If one of the parties would like a second round of questions, the designated spokesperson should make the request and state the reason for the request. I would expect the second round of questions to be very brief with no repetition of previous questions. 

A witness who has finished testifying may be subject to recall should the need arise. Therefore, witnesses should not leave the hearing without first checking with the Investigator-in-Charge or the Hearing Officer about the likelihood of being recalled for additional questioning.

During this hearing, we will not attempt to determine the probable cause of the accident. Such analyses and cause determinations will be adopted later by the full Safety Board after all of the evidence gathered from our investigation is discussed during a public, or “sunshine” meeting. At that time, the Safety Board will consider the evidence, review the analyses and determine the probable cause in a final report.

This hearing is not adversarial; there will be no adverse parties or interests, no formal pleadings or cross-examination. The Safety Board will not determine liability, and questions directed to issues of liability will not be permitted. As Chairman of the Board of Inquiry, I will make all rulings on the admissibility of evidence and my rulings will be final.

I request that all parties and the Technical Panel refrain from asking questions that:

  1. Are narrative-type questions, that are more in the nature of testimony than a question;
  2. Are beyond the scope of the issues agreed upon;
  3. Are repetitive; or
  4. Are irrelevant, immaterial, or argumentative.

The record of the investigation, including the transcript of the hearing; all exhibits entered into the record; and the presentations will become part of the Safety Board's public docket and will be available on the Board’s website: www.ntsb.gov.

Following the hearing, the parties are invited to submit comments to the Safety Board regarding the conclusions they believe should be drawn from the evidence and what preventive measures should be taken.  Please submit your comments to the Hearing Officer, Daniel Filiatrault, no later than September 3, 2010, which is 30 days after the hearing’s completion tomorrow.  All comments received will be made a part of the public docket.

Mr. Accetta, will you please come forward to deliver an accident overview presentation?


Footnotes

  1. Multiple-Vehicle Collisions Under Fog Conditions, Followed by Fires, New Jersey Turnpike, North of Gate 2, NTSB-HAR-71-03
  2. Surtigas S.A., Tank-Semitrailer Overturn, Explosion, and Fire, NTSB-HAR-76-4
  3. Survival in Hazardous Materials Transportation Accidents, Special Investigation Report, NTSB-HZM-79-4
  4. Propane Truck Collision with Bridge Column and fire, White Plains, New York, July 27, 1994
  5. Cherry Hill, NJ, recommendation H-71-19 (Closed Acceptable Action - CAA).
  6. Eagle Pass TX, recommendations H-76-17 (CAA) and H-76-18 (CAA); Houston, TX, recommendation H-77-4 (Closed Acceptable Alternate Action - CAAA); White Plains, NY, recommendations H-95-32 (CAAA), H-95-33 (CAA), H-95-38 (CAA), and H-95-39 (Closed Unacceptable Action - CUA).  H-95-39 to AASHTO recommends that AASHTO “add a cargo tank to the design vehicle in the AASHTO policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets.”
  7. Houston TX, recommendations H-77-4 and H-77-5 (Closed - Suspended); White Plains, NY, recommendations H-95-34 (CAAA).
  8. Houston, TX, recommendation I-77-1 (CAA).
  9. Eagle Pass, TX, recommendation I-76-5 (CAA).
  10. Houston, TX, recommendation H-77-6 (CAA).
  11. White Plains, NY, recommendations H-95-36 (CAA), H-95-40 (CUA, no response received), H-95-41 (CAA), and H-95-42 (CAA).
  12. White Plains, NY, recommendation H-95-35 (CUA). H-95-35 was addressed to the FHWA/FMCSA and recommended that the agency “cooperate with the research and special programs administration in studying methods and developing standards to improve the crashworthiness of front heads on cargo tanks used to transport liquefied flammable gases and potentially lethal nonflammable compressed gases.”
  13. Tank Truck Drivers: This Sign’s for You!, Safety News, FMCSA, May 13, 2008
  14. Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey, 2002 Economic Census, United States Department of Commerce, December 2004
  15. Cargo Tank Roll Stability Study, Final Report, FMCSA, April 30, 2007
  16. Tank Truck Drivers: This Sign’s for You!, Safety News, FMCSA, May 13, 2008
  17. Anything other than Full or Empty, On Guard, Office of Motor Carriers, FHWA, Vol. 23, No. 2, March 1995
  18. Tank Truck Drivers: This Sign’s for You!, Safety News, FMCSA, May 13, 2008