Honorable Deborah Hersman, NTSB Board Member

Remarks of
Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman
Opening Statement
Highway Accident Report
Truck-Tractor Semitrailer Median Crossover Collision
With 15-Passenger Van, Munfordville, Kentucky, March 26, 2010
Washington, DC — September 13, 2011


Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind, and Member Earl Weener. I'd like to recognize Vice Chairman Hart for his excellent service as the spokesperson for the NTSB's on-scene activities in Kentucky.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in Sunshine Act, to consider the March 26, 2010, accident in which a tractor-trailer crossed a highway median and struck a 15-passenger van on Interstate 65 near Munfordville, Kentucky, killing eleven - both drivers and nine van passengers. Two small children, protected with child restraints, survived with minor injuries.

This was the worst highway crash in Kentucky in a generation (23 years).

On behalf of my fellow Board members and the entire NTSB staff, I offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the eleven individuals who died in this tragic accident. We all know that lives were forever changed. Nothing can replace the loss of your loved ones.

Over the past several weeks, the Board Members have read the proposed report and individually met with NTSB staff to discuss the draft. Today, however, is the first time that all of the Board Members are meeting together to discuss it.

Staff will make presentations on the major issues of the accident investigation. The presentations will be followed by questions from the Board Members. We will then consider the conclusions, probable cause, and safety recommendations. Because these are the Board's actual deliberations on the report, it may be revised as a result of actions taken during this meeting. Approximately 30 minutes after we conclude, an abstract of this report will be posted on the NTSB's website.

I'd like to recognize the many Kentucky police, fire, and rescue departments, who responded to the accident scene, as well as express our appreciation to the many organizations that assisted in this investigation.

Our role at the Safety Board is to uncover the facts and then develop recommendations to prevent future tragedies. Most investigations involve a host of factors. Others are more straightforward. In this accident, one fact was clear from the outset: the truck driver was on his cell phone. He had been placing and receiving calls and text messages frequently - 69 times while driving in the 24 hours before the accident. In the minutes before the 5:14 a.m. crash, the driver made three phone calls, the last one at 5:14.

Distracted driving is becoming increasingly prevalent, exacerbating the danger we encounter daily on our roadways. It can be especially lethal when the distracted driver is at the wheel of a vehicle that weighs 40 tons and travels at highway speeds.

Another fact from this tragic accident: this was a cross-median crash the tractor-trailer crossed a sixty-foot wide median, and overrode a median barrier before striking the 15-passenger van. We know that cross-median crashes are far more deadly than non-cross-median crashes. One North Carolina study found that while interstate highway cross-median crashes represented only 3 percent of interstate crashes, they accounted for 32 percent of the fatalities. Further, tractor-trailers account for nearly one-fifth of all vehicles involved in fatal cross-median crashes, but represent only one-tenth of miles driven on interstates.

More people die on our highways each year than in any other mode of transportation. Last year, nearly 24,000 people died in passenger cars and trucks on our roadways. There is so much room for improvement.

Dr. Mayer, will you please introduce the staff.