The results of an investigation of a horrific trucking accident have spurred the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to recommend numerous truck safety rules. The accident, which occurred last year in Oklahoma, claimed the lives of 10 people and injured five others.
The NTSB cited driver fatigue resulting from sleep loss as the root cause of the tragedy. The truck driver, who also suffers from mild sleep apnea, likely had only five hours of sleep before beginning his workday at three in the morning. At the time of the accident he had been on the road for 10 hours.
Breakdown of the Trucking Accident
Trouble began when a minor incident caused a bottleneck of vehicles on I-44. Authorities believe that the truck driver, Donald L. Creed, was using his cruise control and traveling 69 mph in a 75 mph zone. As he approached the scene of the bottleneck, Creed failed to react. In fact, he never applied his brakes or performed any evasive maneuvers to avoid colliding with the slowed traffic.
Creed's truck crashed into the rear of a Land Rover, continued forward overriding three more vehicles, and caused a chain reaction involving crashes of two additional vehicles. Authorities determined that alcohol and drugs were not a factor.
Creed pleaded guilty to 10 counts of negligent homicide and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 10 years probation. He retired soon after the accident.
The NTSB performed an extensive investigation of the accident and determined driver fatigue to be the probable cause. The investigation found that high impact speed and the truck's structural incompatibility with passenger vehicles contributed to the accident's severity.
New and Reiterated Safety Recommendations
Based on its findings, the NTSB made nine new and six reiterated safety recommendations to both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
New Safety Recommendations:
- Develop comprehensive and updated fatigue education materials
- Require all motor carriers adopt a fatigue management program
- Require all heavy commercial vehicles to be equipped with video event recorders
- Require motor carriers to review event recorders for compliance with safety procedures
- Improve highway vehicle crash compatibility and develop standards for under-ride protection
Reiterated Safety Recommendations:
- Develop technologies to reduce fatigue-related accidents
- Develop a plan to continually assess the effectiveness of fatigue management plans implemented by motor carriers
- Implement further research on collision warning systems and require systems on new commercial vehicles if they are determined to be effective
The NTSB Chair, Deborah A.P. Hersman, explained the significance of the board's recommendations: "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."
Lack of Action on NTSB Recommendations
It is unfortunate that several of the NTSB's recommendations are not new. The NTSB has been frustrated by the lack of response from the federal agencies the board is urging to take action. Specifically, the NTSB recommended the implementation of collision warning systems in 2001. Such technologies could prevent an estimated 4,700 accidents annually. The safety recommendations regarding driver fatigue, which causes almost a third of all trucking accidents, have been unfulfilled for over a decade.
This problem goes far beyond the issues addressed in this investigation. For example, the FMCSA has yet to fully implement a 2002 NTSB recommendation to keep medically unfit truck and bus drivers off the road. During the time that has elapsed, unfit truck and bus drivers have caused over 800 fatal accidents.
The FMCSA is not the only federal agency slow to act on the NTSB's recommendations. From 2000 to 2010 the average amount of time federal agencies and transportation industries took to put into practice NTSB recommendations increased from a just over three years to almost five-and-a-half years. The NHTSA and the FMCSA have been taking the longest to comply with NTSB recommendations, averaging almost eight years.
Herman said the horrific accident in Oklahoma stresses the need for actions by federal regulators on the board's recommendations. She explained, "It's time to stop discussing them and make them a reality."
If more of the NTSB's recommendations are put into practice tragedies like the one that occurred in Oklahoma will hopefully not happen again.
If you or a loved one is the victim of a trucking accident you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. An attorney can evaluate any potential claims you may have and advocate on your behalf.