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 the fatal chain-reaction crash in a work zone on I-75 near Chattanooga, Tennessee, on June 25, 2015. The road was dry, visibility was clear, and the crash happened during daylight hours.
In the crash, a tractor-trailer operated by Cool Runnings Express was traveling northbound on an interstate highway. Traffic slowed as it entered a work-zone, but the tractor-trailer did not. Instead it collided at highway speed with the rear of a Toyota Prius, starting a crash sequence that ultimately involved 7 other vehicles and a total of 18 people. Six people tragically lost their lives, and four others were injured.
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 those who died. Nothing can replace your loved ones, but we hope that our recommendations from this investigation can help prevent such tragedies in the future. I would also like to extend our wishes for a full recovery to those who were injured.
In the report that we consider today, the NTSB looked at the truck driver’s performance. We also examined the gaps in our transportation safety systems that expose the traveling public to hazards that can all too often lead to tragedy.
Ending impairment in transportation and reducing fatigue-related accidents are on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List because fatigue and impairment have led to so many tragic outcomes – not only in commercial trucking but in all modes of transportation. This driver’s choices and actions in the days and hours before the crash were one facet of our findings.
Although the truck driver had an opportunity for overnight rest the night before the crash, he had gone without sustained rest for 40 hours prior to this night.
Toxological testing – including hair testing, urine testing, and post-crash blood testing – showed a pattern of drug use. Yet this pattern was not discovered by Cool Runnings Express prior to his hiring. In our investigation, we asked whether it could have been.
We also worked to determine whether red flags should have gone up about his driving record. The accident driver had been in 7 crashes in the past 5 years. [Note: due to an error, this number of years was misstated in the remarks as prepared and delivered.] Cool Runnings Express had not obtained this information in its review of the driver’s application. We asked whether the company could have done so.
Last but not least, this accident brings to light once again the overrepresentation of trucks in fatal work zone crashes. Although trucks are involved in 11.4 percent of all fatal crashes, they are involved in 30.1 percent of fatal work-zone crashes. Speeding, distraction, and impairment are key factors in these crashes.
In this accident, we reviewed the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s (TDOT’s) procedures for establishing a work zone. We asked whether TDOT’s processes and procedures were consistent with federal regulations and whether they were followed. As you will hear, we also asked whether there are ways to improve those processes and procedures.
The truck driver’s choices and actions can tell us much about this crash. We are concerned, however, that other commercial drivers might be making similar choices; that complete driving records and patterns of drug use might not come to the attention of prospective employers; and that the prevalence of drug use in commercial trucking remains, at this date, unknown.
How did a sleep-deprived driver with multiple crashes on his driving record and a history of drug use end up behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer going at least 78 miles per hour on an interstate highway, and what must be done to prevent such circumstances in the future?
These are among the questions that we hope to answer today.
Now Managing Director Tom Zoeller will introduce the staff.