On Feb. 12, 1997, a Consolidated Freightways doubles truck with empty trailers was traveling northbound on U.S. Route 41 near Slinger, WI. The driver lost control on patchy ice and crossed over the median into the southbound lanes. A flatbed truck loaded with lumber collided with the doubles truck, lost control and crossed over into the northbound lanes. A northbound passenger van underrode the flatbed, killing eight of the nine van occupants.
The NTSB investigated and decided that the probable cause of the accident was the truck driver drove too fast for the conditions. The lack of seat belt use in the van also contributed to the deaths.
The board sent letters recommending actions to help reduce this type of accident in the future to a number of trucking-related groups, including the American Trucking Assns., the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Teamsters.
The most disturbing recommendation to many in the trucking industry was the use of onboard recorders. In a letter sent to the ATA, OOIDA, the National Private Truck Council and the Independent Truckers and Drivers Assn., the NTSB asked these groups to “advise your members to equip their commercial vehicle fleets with automated and tamper-proof onboard recording devices, such as tachographs or computerized recorders, to identify information concerning both driver and vehicle operating characteristics.”
The onboard recorder recommendation left many in the industry scratching their heads.
“From our perspective,” says OOIDA’s Todd Spencer, “there’s no correlation between an onboard recorder and any perceived safety benefit in this accident, or most accidents. When the people that make onboard recorders market them to motor carriers, they market them as productivity improvers, not safety devices. And these units are relatively expensive for our little guys to purchase, without any corresponding improvement in safety.”
Similarly, ATA spokesman David Barnes points out that NTSB for years has wanted on-board recorders for use in identifying truckers who exceed hours of service regulations, but that wasn’t an issue in this particular case. “The NTSB stated the truck speed at the time was not readily available, and cite it as a reason for wanting onboard recorders. But the police report found that the estimated speed was 43-58 mph. It’s not exactly rocket science to determine how fast a vehicle was going at the time of an accident.”
Less controversial were NTSB’s recommendations that ATA work with federal agencies to “encourage the development and use of simulator-based training for heavy truck operators” and to do lab and fleet testing on adding traction control devices to antilock braking systems. (Traction control devices are already available as an ABS option.)
Barnes points out that his association and the trucking industry already have been working on research of both simulator training and traction control devices.
You can find the entire 80-page report in Adobe Acrobat format on NTSB’s web site at http://www.ntsb.gov/publictn/1998/HAR9801.pdf.