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Driver fatigue caused fatal multivehicle collision, says NTSB (9/30)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently determined that the June 2009 fatal multivehicle collision involving a 2008 Volvo truck-tractor semitrailer and a traffic queue near Miami, Oklahoma, was caused by the truck driver's fatigue stemming from his acute sleep loss, circadian disruption associated with his shift work schedule, and mild sleep apnea, a press release states. The 76-year-old driver failed to react to slowing and stopped traffic ahead by applying brakes or performing any evasive maneuvers to avoid colliding with the traffic queue.

In its investigation, the NTSB found that contributing to the severity of the accident were the Volvo truck-tractor combination unit's high impact speed and its structural incompatibility with passenger vehicles. Ten passenger vehicle occupants died, five received minor-to- serious injuries, and the driver of the truck combination unit was seriously injured.

On the afternoon of June 26, 2009, a multivehicle accident occurred on Interstate 44 near Miami, Oklahoma, shortly after a minor accident in the same vicinity occurred. The minor incident took place about 1:13 p.m., when a 2001 Ford Focus traveling eastbound drifted out of its lane and sideswiped a truck-tractor semitrailer parked on the right shoulder, crossed over the roadway, struck the center median barrier, and came to rest in the roadway, blocking the left eastbound lane. This crash caused a blockage in the left eastbound lane and created a traffic queue that extended back from the initial accident site approximately 1,500 feet. At approximately 1:19 p.m. the Volvo truck driver was traveling in the right lane at about 69 mph (the posted limit was 75 mph). The driver did not react to the traffic queue and collided with the rear of a sport utility vehicle (SUV). The Volvo truck continued forward and struck and overrode three additional vehicles and pushed the third vehicle into the rear of a livestock trailer being towed by the fourth vehicle, a pickup truck, which was pushed forward and struck a fifth vehicle. The Volvo truck came to rest approximately 270 feet past the point where it struck the initial SUV.

Major safety issues identified by this accident investigation focused on driver fatigue; need for updated and comprehensive fatigue education materials and fatigue management programs; significance of heavy vehicle collision forces in crashes with smaller vehicles; lack of federal requirements for data and vehicle event recorders on commercial vehicles; and lack of federal requirements for forward collision warning systems.

"This crash points out the need for three important actions by federal regulators that would go a long way to reducing this type of accident on our roadways: a fatigue management system would have helped the driver get the rest he needed to perform well behind the wheel, event recorders would have provided our investigators with the details about the crash once it occurred, and a collision warning system would have significantly reduced the likelihood that this accident could have ever happened," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "The time to act on all three of these safety fundamentals is now so that this kind of horrific tragedy will not occur again."

Among the recommendations from this accident investigation, the NTSB called upon the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to require all heavy commercial vehicles to be equipped with video event recorders, improve its fatigue educational materials and to require all motor carriers to adopt a fatigue management program based on the North American Fatigue Management Program. In addition, the NTSB urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set performance standards for event data recorders and, after doing so, require that all trucks over 10,000 GVWR be equipped with event data recorders. The NTSB reiterated previous recommendations to develop standards and require deployment of collision warning systems on new commercial vehicles, to require energy-absorbing under-ride protection for trucks, and to develop technologies to reduce fatigue- related accidents. In total, the NTSB issued 9 new and 6 reiterated safety recommendations with this report.

A synopsis of the accident investigation report, including the findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations, can be found on the Board Meetings page of the NTSB's website, http://www.ntsb.gov/events/Boardmeeting.htm. The complete report will be available on the website in several weeks.

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