A National Highway Transportation Safety (NTSB) investigation into a fiery, multi-fatality crash found that the driver of a truck was distracted by a cell phone call he was making when his vehicle crossed the median, struck a barrier and crashed into a 15-passenger van that was traveling in the opposite direction. The March 26, 2010 collision in Munfordville, Kentucky killed the truck driver and ten people in the van. Two child passengers in the van, who were using child restraints, sustained minor injuries.
Investigators determined that the driver used his mobile phone for calls and text messages a total of 69 times while driving in the 24-hour period prior to the accident. The driver made four calls in the minutes leading up to the crash, making the last call at 5:14 a.m. CDT, coinciding with the time that the truck departed the highway.
“Distracted driving is becoming increasingly prevalent, exacerbating the danger we encounter daily on our roadways,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “It can be especially lethal when the distracted driver is at the wheel of a vehicle that weighs 40 tons and travels at highway speeds.”
The image at right shows a still from an NTSB accident re-creation animation.
The NTSB report released today ruled out road conditions and mechanical failure as possible causes of the incident. Fatigue on the part of the truck driver -- which may have increased the "distraction effects" caused by the use of his cell phone -- and a median barrier that was not designed to safely contain or redirect the heavy vehicle may have contributed to the accident.
The truck spun the van clockwise and dragged it before it separated from the truck, struck a cut rock wall beyond the shoulder and bounced back into the travel lanes. According to the report, the truck's tractor also struck the cut rock wall and then rolled onto its right side. A fire destroyed the tracotr and side and roof of the semitrailer.
The NTSB said that seat belts among the other passengers of the van might have saved lives. Kentucky, like some other states, does not require the use of restraints in 15-passenger vans.
Among the Board's recommendations: improved median barriers on highways and prohibiting the use of both handheld and hands-free cell phones by all commercial driver's license holders while driving in commercial operations, except in emergencies.
Although the truck driver's employer, Hester, Inc., received a cease operations order after the accident, it continued its operations -- an indication of inadequate oversight by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, according to the NTSB.