Trucking companies should work harder to ensure that their drivers get required rest, and the government should move toward mandating the use of alarm systems to alert exhausted truckers, a safety commission from the National Transportation Safety Board recommended last week.
The board hearing, held in Washington, D.C., and streamed live on the Internet, was held in response to an early-morning crash in western Wisconsin three years ago in which a bus carrying a high school band slammed into an overturned semitrailer, killing five people.
Just before 2 a.m. on October 16, 2005, a semitrailer tractor truck 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 bus 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 investigators concluded that the truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and began to drift off the interstate’s shoulder. When he swerved back onto the road, the rig overturned. The bus then plowed into the truck.
Lack of sleep is a factor in about one in eight large-truck crashes. The NTSB called upon the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to step up enforcement of trucking companies, making sure their record-keeping is up to date and drivers are being given adequate time to rest.
The NTSB also urged that trucking companies and the government should consider fledgling technology that would keep drivers alert, thus resulting in safer roads. The Safety Board 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.
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.
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