NTSB: Action Needed to Help Prevent Fatigue Accidents

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that human fatigue was the probable cause of a truck-tractor semitrailer rollover accident that resulted in a subsequent collision of a motorcoach with the overturned truck, killing five and injuring thirty-five on the motorcoach.

"Human fatigue has been a persistent factor in far too many transportation accidents.  And if anything, the problem is growing not shrinking," said NTSB Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker.  "More needs to be done to reverse the trend so fewer of these tragic accidents come before the Safety Board."

Just before 2 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2005, a truck-tractor semitrailer traveling westbound on the I-94 highway near Osseo, Wisconsin, departed the right-hand lane and traveled along the earthen roadside before re-entering the highway where it overturned, coming to rest on its right side and blocking both westbound lanes.  About a minute later, a chartered 55-passenger motorcoach, carrying members of a high school band, and traveling at highway speeds crashed into the underside of the overturned truck.  The motorcoach driver and four passengers were fatally injured.  Thirty-five passengers received minor to serious injuries, and five passengers were not injured.  The truck driver received minor injuries.

NTSB determined that the driver of the truck-tractor semitrailer was fatigued and fell asleep at the wheel because he did not use his off-duty time to obtain sufficient sleep to safely operate the vehicle.  With the low-light conditions of a dark night, the motorcoach driver was unable to see the truck blocking the travel lanes in time to avoid the collision. 

NTSB also found that had the truck been equipped with technologies to detect fatigue, the systems might have prevented or mitigated the severity of the accident.  And had the motorcoach been equipped with a collision warning system with active braking, the severity of the accident may have been significantly reduced.

"In this tragic accident, we can clearly see how the advanced vehicle safety technologies, some of which are already fully developed and in use, could have made a big difference here," Rosenker said.  "This board is going to continue to be a strong advocate for the implementation of technologies that can actually prevent such terrible accidents from ever occurring."

Last year, NTSB added "Enhanced Vehicle Safety Technology to Prevent Collisions" to its List of Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements, or Most Wanted List. Among the advanced safety technologies that the Board believes will help reduce accidents are adaptive cruise control and collision warning systems. This report goes further to include active braking and electronic stability control as additional tools to help drivers remain in control of their vehicles. 

As a result of the accident, the NTSB made the following safety recommendations:

To the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

  1. Develop and implement a plan to deploy technologies in commercial vehicles to reduce the occurrence of fatigue-related accidents.
  2. Develop and use a methodology that will continually assess the effectiveness of the fatigue management plans implemented by motor carriers, including their ability to improve sleep and alertness, mitigate performance errors, and prevent incidents and accidents.

To the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

  1. Determine whether equipping commercial vehicles with collision warning systems with active braking and electronic stability control systems will reduce commercial vehicle accidents. If these technologies are determined to be effective in reducing accidents, require their use on commercial vehicles.

An additional safety recommendation was made to the Whole Foods Market Group, Inc., regarding the implementation of a comprehensive fatigue education program for its drivers to help them manage the risks of fatigue.

The Safety Board also reiterated the following safety recommendations:

To the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

  • Complete rulemaking on adaptive cruise control and collision warning system performance standards for new commercial vehicles. At a minimum, these standards should address obstacle detection distance, timing of alerts, and human factors guidelines, such as the mode and type of warning.  (H-01-06)
  • After promulgating performance standards for collision warning systems for commercial vehicles, require that all new commercial vehicles be equipped with a collision warning system. (H-01-07)

A synopsis of the board's report, including the probable cause and recommendations, is available at ntsb.gov under "Board Meetings."

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