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.
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.
- Weather and road surface conditions were not factors in the accident.
- The truck driver did not depart the roadway to avoid another vehicle or a roadway obstruction.
- The truck driver was not incapacitated by a medical event that prevented him from controlling his vehicle.
- No investigative evidence indicated that mechanical failure on the truck was a factor in the accident.
- The initial emergency response to the accident was timely and sufficient.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The volume of heavy vehicle traffic should be a factor in median barrier selection.
- 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.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data concerning cross-median crashes would be improved by a standard definition describing what constitutes a “cross-median crash.”
- The two children who survived the accident did so because of the protection provided by their child restraint systems.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.