The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what happened last week when a passenger bus struck three tractor-trailers parked along an exit ramp leading into a rest area near Highland, Illinois. Three bus passengers died, and others sustained serious injuries. Part of NTSB’s investigation will look at why the trucks were parked along the entrance ramp rather than in the rest area.
Finding available truck parking is often a challenge for drivers. The 2019 Jason’s Law Report from the Department of Transportation found that 98% of drivers regularly experience problems finding safe parking.
Tom Chapman, an NTSB board member, explained that his organization is running a safety investigation in parallel with the law enforcement investigation by the Indianola State Police. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also dispatched investigators to the crash site.
Chapman said the final NTSB report will be made available within 12 to 24 months.
The bus, a 2014 Prevost motorcoach, was traveling Interstate 70 from Indianapolis, Indiana, to St. Louis, Missouri, carrying 22 passengers. Around 2 a.m. July 12, it struck the trucks.
“With regard to this tragedy, we are particularly interested in issues relating to rest area safety, bus occupant protection, potential driver fatigue, and medical fitness,” Chapman said during a media briefing.
Truck Parking Shortage
Respondint to a press conference question about whether the trucks should have been parked along the ramp into the rest area, Chapman pointed out that is a matter of state law, and it may vary from state to state.
“That's something we're still seeking to determine. We'll look at that very closely. We'll look at the circumstances under which those vehicles were located where they were. And again, if recommendations are appropriate, we will certainly make them,” he explained.
Another reporter asked Chapman if the NTSB has any advocacy stance on there not being enough truck parking available and how that makes it hard for drivers to stop and rest.
“It's absolutely an issue. We do have a history in terms of rest area safety," responded Chapman. “We're actually investigating an accident involving somewhat similar circumstances involving parked trucks, that occurred in Oregon, within the last two years.
"The reason that we are focusing on this particular crash relates in part to those very issues that you raise. It's certainly one of the things that we will be looking at closely. And again, if recommendations are appropriate, we won't hesitate to make them.”
Elaborating more, he said NTSB investigators will be looking at the location and proximity of the parked trucks plus the width and the length of the ramp.
Chapman said the bus contained both forward-facing and inward-facing cameras and said the data will be downloaded.
“Assuming it can be recovered and will be shared with us, we have a team of experts who specialize in analyzing and collecting that sort of data,” he added.
Even though the full investigation is expected to take 12 to 24 months, safety recommendations if needed could come sooner.
“If we find in the course of our investigation in the early stages, for example, that it's appropriate to make recommendations before the investigation is completed, we have that ability, that authority, and we do that," Chapman said. "We will make emergency recommendations when it's appropriate to do so when during the fact-finding effort that some condition occurred that needs to be addressed more quickly than it would be if the final results of our investigation held it up."