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Speeches

Opening Statement, Naperville, IL Board Meeting
Christopher A. Hart
NTSB Board Room
2/9/2016

Good afternoon 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.

Before I commence with the meeting, I would like to observe a moment of silence for a long-serving Administrative Law Judge Patrick G. Geraghty, who passed Saturday, February 6. He had been an Administrative Law Judge at the NTSB since 1975 and gave more than 40 years of amazing service to the aviation safety and marine safety community. I would like to observe a moment of silence for Judge Geraghty. Thank you.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider the collision of a commercial truck with stopped vehicles on Interstate 88 in Naperville, Illinois, on January 27, 2014.

A truck-tractor towing a flatbed semitrailer, operated by DND International, crashed into vehicles assisting a disabled 2000 Volvo tractor-trailer, operated by Michael’s Cartage Inc., that had broken down in the right eastbound lane.

Tragically, as a result of the collision, a Highway Emergency Lane Patrol (or HELP) employee died. An Illinois State Police trooper suffered serious injuries in a postcrash fire that completely consumed his patrol car, and the driver of the striking truck was also seriously injured. The driver of the disabled truck suffered 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 HELP employee who died in the course of his job—rendering assistance.

  Nothing can replace your loved one, but we hope that this investigation helps us discover more effective ways to prevent 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.

The responders who were assisting the disabled vehicle had taken steps to ensure that it was conspicuous. HELP employees had positioned flares to separate the disabled truck from traffic. An active yellow arrow board on the HELP truck behind the disabled vehicle directed traffic away from the area. The responding police patrol car displayed flashing blue and red lights.

Despite all of these precautions, however, the driver of the DND truck did not apply the brakes until one second before the crash. He had slept less than four and a half out of 37 hours leading up to the crash, and he admitted that he had fallen asleep at the wheel.

As you will hear today, and as we have heard repeatedly in this boardroom, fatigue in transportation kills. It is of such concern that reducing fatigue-related crashes is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. In commercial trucking, hours-of-service rules are one bulwark against such crashes. These rules are necessary, but not by themselves sufficient. They are a first layer of basic protection against driver fatigue.

Today you will hear that the DND driver removed even this basic, long-established layer of protection against fatigue, and that DND enabled his behavior. The driver was falsifying his paper logbooks, and DND was not overseeing its drivers’ compliance, allowing the hazard to go uncorrected. Consequently, hours-of-service rules were not followed and provided no protection.

You will also hear about the toolkit available to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, to remove unsafe carriers from the roads that we all share. The FMCSA had designated the companies that operated both the striking truck and the disabled truck as high-risk motor carriers. Although such unsafe trucking companies are a small minority of operators, they are not rare – to the dismay of both the driving public and trucking companies that are more diligent about ensuring their safety.

But the FMCSA was unable to act effectively on its risk assessment until it was too late. And even then, two months after the crash, when the FMCSA issued an Imminent Hazard order to place DND out of service, DND successfully appealed. DND’s ultimate demise resulted not from the Imminent Hazard order, but because its insurance was cancelled.

Some of what we learned in this investigation might outrage the safety-conscious – including safer commercial trucking companies, which work hard and spend money to comply with exacting safety rules. In addition to posing an unacceptable risk to the rest of us, unsafe companies that flout the rules also gain an unfair advantage over companies that expend resources to comply with them.

Safety on our highways depends heavily upon drivers being awake and alert. Today we will consider steps toward a future in which the companies that employ such drivers either play their role in helping to prevent fatigue, or pursue another line of business.

Now Deputy Managing Director Steve Klejst will introduce the staff.