Postaccident photograph showing Volvo truck-tractor semitrailer override of passenger vehicles.

​​Postaccident photograph showing Volvo truck-tractor semitrailer override of passenger vehicles.

Truck-Tractor Semitrailer Rear-End Collision Into Passenger Vehicles

What Happened

​​On June 26, 2009, a multivehicle accident occurred on Interstate 44 (I-44) near Miami, Oklahoma, shortly after a minor accident in the same vicinity occurred. The minor accident took place about 1:13 p.m., when a 2001 Ford Focus traveling eastbound at milepost 321.7 on I-44 drifted into a truck-tractor semitrailer parked on the right shoulder. After the Focus sideswiped the semitrailer, the car’s driver overcorrected to the left, lost control, and struck the concrete center median barrier. The Focus came to rest in the roadway, blocking the left eastbound lane. As the trailing traffic began to slow and stop, it formed a queue. Several motorists exited their vehicles and began to push the disabled Focus to the right shoulder. The queue of stopped vehicles and approaching but slowing vehicles extended back from the accident site approximately 1,500 feet to about milepost 321.5.

Meanwhile, about 1:19 p.m., a 76-year-old truck driver operating a 2008 Volvo truck-tractor in combination with an empty 2009 Great Dane refrigerated semitrailer was traveling eastbound in the outside (right) lane of I-44 at approximately 69 mph. (The posted speed limit was 75 mph.) The truck driver did not react to the queue of slowing and stopped vehicles and collided with the rear of a 2003 Land Rover sport utility vehicle (SUV). As both vehicles moved forward, the Land Rover struck a 2003 Hyundai Sonata and then departed the right lane and shoulder, coming to rest off the roadway. The Volvo continued forward, struck and overrode the Hyundai Sonata, struck and overrode a 2004 Kia Spectra, and then struck the rear of a 2000 Ford Windstar minivan. The Volvo overrode a portion of the Windstar while pushing it into the rear of a livestock trailer being towed by a 2004 Ford F350 pickup truck. The pickup truck was pushed forward and struck a 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe SUV. The Volvo combination unit came to rest approximately 270 feet past the point where it initially struck the Land Rover. As a result of the Volvo combination unit’s striking the slowed and stopped vehicle queue on I-44, 10 passenger vehicle occupants died, 5 received minor-to-serious injuries, and the driver of the Volvo combination unit was seriously injured.

What We Found

We determined that the probable cause of this accident was the Volvo truck driver’s fatigue, caused by the combined effects of acute sleep loss, circadian disruption associated with his shift work schedule, and mild sleep apnea, which resulted in the driver’s failure to react to slowing and stopped traffic ahead by applying the brakes or performing any evasive maneuver to avoid colliding with the traffic queue. Contributing to the severity of the accident were the Volvo truck-tractor combination unit’s high impact speed and its structural incompatibility with the passenger vehicles.​

What We Recommended

​We made four recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), four to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and one to Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc. We also reiterated and reclassified one recommendation to the U.S. Department of Energy and two recommendations to NHTSA, reiterated two recommendations to the FMCSA and one recommendation to NHTSA, and reclassified one recommendation to NHTSA.