Highway Accident Report: Truck-tractor Semitrailer Median Crossover Collision with 15-Passengar Van, Munfordville, KY, March 26, 2010

This is a synopsis from the Safety Board's report and does not include the Board's rationale for the conclusions, probable cause, and safety recommendations. Safety Board staff is currently making final revisions to the report from which the attached conclusions and safety recommendations have been extracted. The final report and pertinent safety recommendation letters will be distributed to recommendation recipients as soon as possible. The attached information is subject to further review and editing.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

On Friday, March 26, 2010, about 5:14 a.m. central daylight time, near Munfordville, Kentucky, a 1999 Freightliner truck-tractor in combination with a 1998 Strick Corporation 53-foot-long van semitrailer, owned by the motor carrier Hester, Inc., and being driven by a 45-year-old male, was traveling south on Interstate 65 (I-65) near milepost 61.5. The truck departed the left lane of southbound I-65 at a shallow angle and entered the 60-foot-wide depressed earthen median between the southbound and northbound roadways. The truck traveled across the median and struck and overrode the high-tension, four-cable, alternating-post median barrier adjacent to the left shoulder of northbound I-65. It then crossed the left shoulder and entered the travel lanes of northbound I-65.

At that time, a 2000 Dodge 15-passenger van, driven by a 41-year-old male and occupied by 11 passengers, was traveling northbound in the left lane. As the truck crossed in front of the van, its tractor was struck by the van. The van rotated clockwise and became engaged with the truck's trailer; the two vehicles continued across both travel lanes and the right shoulder of northbound I-65. As the truck and van traveled across the right shoulder, the van separated from the truck, struck the cut rock wall beyond the shoulder, and rebounded back into the travel lanes, coming to rest in the left lane of northbound I-65, facing south. The truck's tractor struck the cut rock wall, and the vehicle rolled onto its right side. As the truck came to rest across both northbound lanes, a fire ensued that destroyed the tractor and the sides and roof of the semitrailer.

As a result of the accident and subsequent truck fire, the truck driver, the van driver, and nine van passengers died. Two child passengers in the van, who were using child restraints, sustained minor injuries.

CONCLUSIONS

 

  1. Weather and road surface conditions were not factors in the accident.
  2. The truck driver did not depart the roadway to avoid another vehicle or a roadway obstruction.
  3. The truck driver was not incapacitated by a medical event that prevented him from controlling his vehicle.
  4. No investigative evidence indicated that mechanical failure on the truck was a factor in the accident.
  5. The initial emergency response to the accident was timely and sufficient.
  6. Because he was distracted from the driving task by the use of his cellular telephone at the time of the accident, the truck driver did not maintain control of his vehicle.
  7. Because changes in driving behavior occur when the cognitive distraction of a cellular telephone conversation diverts attention from driving, use of either a handheld or a hands-free cellular telephone while driving can impair driver performance.
  8. The truck driver was fatigued at the time of the accident, which may have contributed to the distraction effects caused by the use of his cellular telephone.
  9. The forces in this accident exceeded the capability of a cable barrier system that was not designed to safely contain or redirect a heavy vehicle such as the accident truck.
  10. The Roadside Design Guide provides inadequate warrants and standards for the selection and installation of median barriers along roadways with high volumes of heavy vehicle traffic.
  11. The volume of heavy vehicle traffic should be a factor in median barrier selection.
  12. To adequately address cable barrier deflection, the test article evaluations for high-tension cable barrier systems conducted according to the Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware should consider the test length applications used in the field.
  13. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data concerning cross-median crashes would be improved by a standard definition describing what constitutes a “cross-median crash.”
  14. The two children who survived the accident did so because of the protection provided by their child restraint systems.
  15. Had all the occupants of the 15-passenger van been restrained, some injuries might have been mitigated and the likelihood of ejections would have been reduced.
  16. The Kentucky seat belt statute is too restrictive in its definition of “vehicle” and does not afford safety benefits to occupants of 15-passenger vans.
  17. Based on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 2011 Summary of Vehicle Occupant Protection Laws, states other than Kentucky also may not require restraint use in 15-passenger vans.
  18. The postaccident continuation of Hester, Inc.'s, operations, despite a cease operations order against the firm, shows that Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration oversight was inadequate to detect a deceptive and unsafe carrier in a timely manner.
  19. If no significant consequences result when motor carriers intentionally provide false information to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, noncompliant motor carriers will continue to try to evade the system and reregister as reincarnated carriers.
  20. Expanding the New Applicant Screening Program to include all new motor carrier entrants, rather than limiting it to passenger-carrying operations, could help the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration detect reincarnated and unsafe cargo carriers.
  21. Failure to compare the data obtained from the New Applicant Screening Program review of a motor carrier with subsequent compliance review data for that carrier represents a missed opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the New Applicant Screening Program.

PROBABLE CAUSE

 

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the truck driver's failure to maintain control of the truck-tractor combination vehicle because he was distracted by use of his cellular telephone. Contributing to the severity of the accident were a median barrier that was not designed to safely contain or redirect the heavy vehicle and the lack of adequate guidance to the states in the form of high-performance median barrier warrants.

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

New Recommendations

As a result of its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendations:

To the Federal Highway Administration:

Work with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to establish warrants and implementation criteria for the selection and installation of Test Level Four and Test Level Five median barriers on the National Highway System. (H-11-XX)

Work with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to identify cross-median crash rates that call for special consideration when selecting median barriers. (H-11-XX)

Work with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to define the criteria for median barrier selection, including heavy vehicle traffic volume. (H-11-XX)

Provide to state transportation agencies information from current research, such as National Cooperative Highway Research Program Project 22-25, Development of Guidance for the Selection, Use, and Maintenance of Cable Barrier Systems,about the safety risks associated with the installation of cable barrier systems that differ from the configuration of the system as designed and tested; information should include the risks associated with the dynamic deflection that may occur when installation distances between cable barrier anchorages differ from the 600-foot test length prescribed in the Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware. (H-11-XX)

Include, in your product acceptance letters for cable barrier safety devices, cautionary language reflecting current research, such as National Cooperative Highway Research Program Project 22-25, Development of Guidance for the Selection, Use, and Maintenance of Cable Barrier Systems, to warn state transportation agencies of the safety risks associated with the installation of cable barrier systems that differ from the configuration of the system as designed and tested; language should include the risks associated with the dynamic deflection that may occur when installation distances between cable barrier anchorages differ from the 600-foot test length prescribed in the Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware. (H-11-XX)

To the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

Prohibit the use of both handheld and hands-free cellular telephones by all commercial driver's license holders while driving in commercial operations, except in emergencies. (H-11-XX) [This recommendation supersedes Safety Recommendation H-06-27.]

Apply the vetting criteria of the New Applicant Screening Program to the information submitted by all new entrant motor carriers. (H-11-XX)

To the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Work with the Governors Highway Safety Association to add a standard definition for “cross-median crash” and a data element for cross-median crash accidents to the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria. (H-11-XX)

To the 50 states and the District of Columbia:

Prohibit the use of both handheld and hands-free cellular telephones by all commercial driver's license holders while driving in commercial operations, except in emergencies. (H-11-XX) [This recommendation supersedes Safety Recommendation H-06-28.]

To the state of Kentucky:

Revise your seat belt law so that it applies to all vehicles designed to carry 15 or fewer passengers. (H-11-XX)

To the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials:

Work with the Federal Highway Administration to establish warrants and implementation criteria for the selection and installation of Test Level Four and Test Level Five median barriers on the National Highway System, and publish those warrants and criteria in the Roadside Design Guide. (H-11-XX) [This recommendation supersedes Safety Recommendation H-98-24.]

Work with the Federal Highway Administration to identify cross-median crash rates that call for special consideration when selecting median barriers, and publish the rates in the Roadside Design Guide. (H-11-XX)

Work with the Federal Highway Administration to define the criteria for median barrier selection, including heavy vehicle traffic volume, and publish the criteria in the Roadside Design Guide. (H-11-XX)

To the Governors Highway Safety Association:

Work with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to add a standard definition for “cross-median crash” and a data element for cross-median crash accidents to the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria. (H-11-XX)

Inform your members of the circumstances of this accident, emphasizing that most of the van occupants who died in the accident were not restrained by seat belts and that, like Kentucky, other states may have seat belt laws that do not cover 15-passenger vans and similar vehicles. (H-11-XX)

Previously Issued Recommendations Reiterated in This Report

As a result of its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board reiterates the following safety recommendations:

To the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

Seek statutory authority to deny or revoke operating authority for commercial interstate motor carriers found to have applications for operating authority in which the applicant failed to disclose any prior operating relationship with another motor carrier, operating as another motor carrier, or being previously assigned a U.S. Department of Transportation number. (H-09-34)

Develop an evaluation component to determine the effectiveness of your New Applicant Screening Program. (H-09-21)

Previously Issued Recommendations Reclassified in This Report

As a result of its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board reclassifies the following safety recommendations:

To the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

Publish regulations prohibiting cellular telephone use by commercial driver's license holders with a passenger-carrying or school bus endorsement, while driving under the authority of that endorsement, except in emergencies. (H-06-27)

Safety Recommendation H-06-27 is reclassified “Closed - Superseded” (superseded by Safety Recommendation #6).

To the 50 states and the District of Columbia:

Enact legislation to prohibit cellular telephone use by commercial driver's license holders with a passenger-carrying or school bus endorsement, while driving under the authority of that endorsement, except in emergencies. (H-06-28)

Safety Recommendation H-06-28 is reclassified “Closed - Superseded” (superseded by Safety Recommendation #9).

To the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials:

Review, with the Federal Highway Administration, the median barrier warrants and revise them as necessary to reflect changes in the factors affecting the probability of cross-median accidents, including changes in the vehicle fleet and the percentage of heavy trucks using the roadways. (H-98-24)

Safety Recommendation H-98-24 is reclassified “Closed - Superseded” (superseded by Safety Recommendation #11).