NTSB Recommendations Could Have Saved Lives in Fatal Truck Accident
May 10th, 2018
A slow-moving, overloaded SUV. A driver under the influence. A rain slick road. A trucker who’d been falsifying his logs to cheat hours-in-service regulations.
It sounds like a recipe for disaster, and it was a disaster for one group of travelers on June 29th, 2016. Despite purported evasive actions by when the truck struck the rear-end of the SUV, which was carrying passengers from Houston to Los Angeles. Six of the SUV passengers were killed. The collision occurred in Goodland, Kansas. The remaining four passengers and the driver suffered serious injuries in the fatal truck accident that day. But, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says the story could have ended differently.
The NTSB study indicated that the probable cause for the accident was the truck driver’s failure to notice the SUV in a timely manner and take effective evasive action, due to his fatigue and the fact that he was not expecting a slow-moving vehicle in the road in front of him. The truck driver screened positive for both methamphetamines and cocaine at the hospital, but the NTSB did not have access to a sample for confirmation testing, so did not list operating under the influence as a contributing factor. But, the Board did identify several additional factors it believed had contributed to the accident or the severity of injuries sustained. These included:
- The SUV traveling at a reduced speed without using its hazard lights
- The fact that the SUV was overloaded
- The fact that 9 of the 11 occupants of the SUV were not wearing seatbelts
- The lack of a collision avoidance system on the truck
This last factor is particularly noteworthy because “Increase Implementation of Collision Avoidance Technologies” tops the NTSB’s 2017-2018 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.
NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements
One of the remaining items in the top 10 relates only to aviation, and another to railway transport. The remaining seven items relating to motor vehicle safety are:
- End alcohol and other drug impairment in transportation
- Require medical fitness
- Strengthen occupant protection
- Ensure the safe shipment of hazardous materials
- Reduce fatigue-related accidents
- Eliminate distractions
- Expand recorder use to enhance safety
Some of these items are self-apparent, and are more reflective of goals than an action plan. But, this is no mere wish list. The NTSB also has a list of more than 300 open recommendations—recommendations geared toward achieving these and other important transportation safety objectives. According to the NTSB, 15 of those open recommendations address issues involved in this one crash.
Collision Avoidance Technology
The truck that struck the SUV was pre-wired for a collision avoidance system. However, the system wasn’t required by law, and the driver’s employer opted not to install it. All indications are that such a system could have prevented—or, at least, lessened the severity of this fatal truck accident.
The fatigued driver did not observe the vehicle in front of him until he was about 100 feet from the SUV. At that point, he attempted evasive action, both braking and swerving in an effort to avoid the collision. A collision avoidance system that automatically engaged the brake when it sensed that the truck was gaining ground on the other vehicle too quickly, or even one that alerted the driver, could potentially have stopped the truck in time. Even if the collision couldn’t have been avoided entirely, the truck might have been able to reduce speed further before impact, minimizing injury to the occupants of the SUV.
Eight of the open recommendations listed by the NTSB relate to investigation, development of standards, implementation and communication of standards for and implementation of such technologies in motor vehicles. While some of those initiatives are slowly moving forward, it is important to note that transportation companies need not wait for a legal mandate to make their vehicles safer. In its 2017-2018 Most Wanted brochure, the NTSB says, “These technologies are available today. They should be implemented today.”
Keith Fletcher is one of the founding shareholders at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas State Board of Specialization, and is passionate about serving personal injury victims in the greater Houston area.