About 3:30 a.m. on January 5, 2020, on the westbound Pennsylvania Turnpike near Mt. Pleasant Township, Pennsylvania, a motorcoach carrying 59 passengers ran off the right side of the road, hit the adjacent embankment, and overturned, blocking all westbound lanes. The motorcoach was rounding a curve at night and in light snow. Within seconds, two trucks towing semitrailers that were following the motorcoach hit it. A westbound car and a third truck drove off the road to avoid the wreckage. The motorcoach driver, two passengers, and both occupants of the second truck died in the crash; 49 of the motorcoach passengers and the codriver of the first truck were injured. The driver of the first truck, the occupants of the third truck, and the occupants of the car were uninjured.
We determined that the probable cause of the crash near Mt. Pleasant Township, Pennsylvania, was the motorcoach driver’s loss of control due to the motorcoach’s unsafe speed on the wet curve and the driver’s likely excessive steering inputs, which caused the motorcoach to run off the road, strike an embankment, and subsequently roll over across the roadway, which led to two commercial trucks colliding with the motorcoach. Contributing to the severity of the crash was the high initial and impact speed of the second truck.
Because of the outdated nature of relying on the 85th percentile speed for determining speed limits, we recommended that the FHWA evaluate the applicability and use of the 85th percentile speed input variable in its tools for setting appropriate speed limits. To address speed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, we recommended that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania seek authority to allow speed safety cameras to be used on the turnpike outside of active work zones. We also recommended that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission implement the use of variable speed limit signs or other similar technology to adjust statutory speeds based on real-time information regarding weather and road conditions. Further, we reiterated a recommendation to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to authorize state and local agencies to use automated speed enforcement.
To address the importance of connected vehicle technology, we made recommendations regarding spectrum allocation and performance standards. We recommended that the US Department of Transportation implement a plan for nationwide connected vehicle technology deployment to address the limitations associated with the reduced spectrum for intelligent transportation systems and interference from unauthorized devices, such as those that use wi-fi. We also recommended that the FCC implement appropriate safeguards to protect vehicle-to-everything communications from harmful interference from unlicensed devices, such as those that use wi-fi. We reiterated recommendations to NHTSA to develop minimum performance standards for connected vehicle technology for all highway vehicles and, once standards are developed, to require this technology to be installed on all newly manufactured highway vehicles.
We also reiterated recommendations to NHTSA to develop performance standards for advanced speed-limiting technology for heavy vehicles and, once standards are developed, to require that all newly manufactured heavy vehicles be equipped with such devices. Similarly, we also reiterated a recommendation to NHTSA to complete the development and application of performance standards for forward collision avoidance systems in commercial vehicles.
Regarding onboard video event recorders, we recommended that NHTSA require that all buses and trucks over 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating be so equipped and that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provide guidance to motor carriers to proactively use the onboard video event recorder information to aid in driver training and ensure driver compliance with regulatory rules essential for safe operation. We also reiterated a recommendation to the American Bus Association and the United Motorcoach Association to encourage their members to ensure that any onboard video system in their vehicles provides visibility of the driver and of each occupant seating location, visibility forward of the vehicle, optimized frame rate, and low-light recording capability.
Because of the importance of collision avoidance systems to be operational, we recommended that the FMCSA add collision avoidance systems to the parts and accessories that the driver vehicle inspection report form will cover We also recommended that the American Trucking Associations, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the American Bus Association, and United Motorcoach Association, the Transport Workers Union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters inform their members about the importance of drivers reporting faults concerning advanced safety features on the driver vehicle inspection report form (if they are not already identified on the form). We further recommended that FedEx Ground Package System (FedEx) and United Parcel Service of America (UPS) require their drivers to report faults concerning advanced safety features, such as automatic emergency braking, in the optional section of the driver vehicle inspection report form (if they are not already identified on the form).