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Speeches

Opening Statement, Board Meeting: Multi-vehicle crash near Cranbury, New Jersey
Christopher A. Hart
NTSB Boardroom
8/11/2015

Good morning and welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, Member Robert Sumwalt and Member Earl Weener.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider a multi-vehicle crash on the New Jersey Turnpike near Cranbury, New Jersey, at 12:55 a.m. on June 7, 2014.

The accident began when a truck-tractor and a semitrailer, traveling at 65 miles per hour in a 45 miles-per-hour work zone on the New Jersey Turnpike, encountered traffic that was moving less than 10 miles per hour due to the road construction ahead. The driver, already going too fast, was slow to react. The truck struck the rear of a limo van at between 47 and 53 miles per hour, starting a chain reaction crash that affected 21 people in six vehicles. In a moment, staff will describe the details of the crash sequence.

One passenger in the limo van died, and four others were seriously injured. Two drivers in the limo van cab and three other people sustained minor injuries. 

On behalf of my fellow Board Members and the entire NTSB staff, I would like to extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the passenger who died. Nothing can replace your loved one, but we hope that this investigation helps us discover new ways of preventing such crashes, and reinforces previously identified opportunities to improve safety. I would also like to extend our wishes for a full recovery to those who were injured.

Just last month, the NTSB held a public meeting in this room to discuss the April 2014 collision of a truck with a motorcoach in Orland, California, in which ten people lost their lives and dozens of others were injured. In many regards the crashes were very different, but there were also striking similarities.

For example, today we will hear about the lack of a pre-trip safety briefing for passengers in the limo van in Cranbury, just as there was no safety briefing for the motorcoach passengers in Orland. Such a safety briefing could have instructed passengers on this limo van on the use of seat belts and head restraints and explained emergency egress from the vehicle. We will hear that none of the occupants in the rear compartment of the limo-van wore their seat-belts in the crash in Cranbury. In Orland, only one out of 45 passengers said that they used the available 3-point restraint.

And we will hear that the limo van passengers in Cranbury had poor emergency egress opportunities – as was also the case in Orland.

In fact, because the limo van interior had been customized, the passengers in Cranbury had no available exits until emergency responders removed parts of a plywood panel that had been installed between the passenger compartment and the cab as part of the customization. Their single means of exiting the limo van, a sliding door, had become inoperable in the crash.

In addition to these survivability issues, we will again discuss ways to strengthen commercial trucking safety, an issue that is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

Heavy trucks are involved in nearly one in eight fatal crashes – this alone demands our attention. In work zones, such as the one in which this crash occurred, one in four fatal crashes involves a heavy truck. And we know that a major contributor to truck-involved crashes is driver fatigue.

The driver in the Cranbury crash had been on duty for 13 ½ hours of a 14-hour duty day, with more driving planned. He had been awake more than 28 hours when his truck struck the limo van, including an overnight drive from his residence in Georgia to the distribution center at which he was based.

Today we will ask what additional safeguards operators can adopt to address driver fatigue, and we will look at what can be done to reduce risks in work zones for all vehicles.

Earlier this year, the NTSB published a special investigation report on the use of forward collision avoidance systems to prevent and mitigate rear-end crashes. The truck that initiated the Cranbury crash was equipped with such a system, and we will discuss this system’s features today.

Finally, we will discuss the effectiveness of the emergency response to this crash.

One tragic aspect of roadway deaths is that so often they could have been prevented.

Today we will learn, from many perspectives, what can be done to prevent a recurrence of this crash and what can be done to mitigate the consequences of any such crash that does occur.

Now Managing Director Tom Zoeller will introduce the staff.