On May 1, 2003, about 2:11 a.m., eastern daylight time, a 1998 Mercedes Benz CLK320, driven by a 34-year-old off-duty police officer, was traveling southbound on U.S. Route 1 through the city of Linden in Union County, New Jersey. The vehicle was traveling in the right lane of a six-lane divided highway. The weather was clear, and the roadway was dry, except for a puddle of water adjacent to a service station on the west side of the roadway.
Near milepost 41.4, the Mercedes, traveling 48 to 62 mph, hit the curb on the west side of the road and swerved to the left. The Mercedes crossed the other two southbound lanes; mounted and crossed an 11.5-foot-wide, 6-inch-high raised concrete curb median; and entered the northbound lanes, where it collided head on with a 1986 Ford Taurus traveling in the left northbound lane. The Mercedes rolled up and over the Ford and landed on its roof. The Mercedes slid approximately 80 feet across the northbound lanes and struck a wooden utility pole next to the east side of the roadway, where it came to rest straddling the right northbound lane and the grassy area to the east of the roadway. Following the collision, the Ford remained upright, rotated about 163 degrees counterclockwise, and slid about 50 feet, where it came to rest in the right northbound lane.
The Ford was occupied by a 33-year-old driver and four passengers ranging in age from 18 to 31. The drivers of both vehicles and three of the four Ford Taurus passengers died at the scene. The fourth Ford passenger died several hours later in a hospital.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the Mercedes driver's loss of control of the vehicle due to alcohol impairment. Contributing to the severity of the accident were the lack of barriers separating traffic in the northbound and southbound traffic lanes and the failure of the Mercedes driver to wear his seat belt.
Major safety issues identified in this accident are alcohol impairment, speed enforcement, and evaluative criteria for median barrier installation. As a result of this accident, the Safety Board makes safety recommendations to the Federal Highway Administration, the city of Linden, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The Safety Board also reiterates a recommendation to the State of New Jersey.
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 evaluative criteria for determining when to install median barriers on high-volume, high-speed roadways, regardless of access type. (H-06-12)
To the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials:
Work with the Federal Highway Administration to establish evaluative criteria for determining when to install median barriers on high-volume, high-speed roadways, regardless of access type. (H-06-13)
To the city of Linden:
Develop and implement a speed enforcement plan for U.S. Route 1. (H-06-14)
The National Transportation Safety Board reiterates the following previously issued recommendation:
To the State of New Jersey:
Establish a comprehensive program that is designed to reduce the incidence of alcohol-related crashes, injuries, and fatalities caused by hard core drinking drivers and that includes elements such as those suggested in the National Transportation Safety Board's Model Program. (H-00-26)