The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is tasked with investigating serious transportation accidents.

On August 11, the NTSB issued their initial report on a 2014 fatal truck crash that killed one man, and seriously injured several others—including actor Tracy Morgan.

See background, details on truck crash

Six important details from crash report

1. The truck could have stopped at 45 mph.

The crash occurred at the start of a work zone. Multiple signs, beginning a mile back , alerted drivers to the work zone speed limit: 45 mph.

The truck driver never slowed down, and struck the rear of the limo van at 65 mph.

Had he been traveling at or below the speed limit of 45 mph, NTSB’s investigation showed that the trucker would have had time to brake and stop before hitting the limo van.

 

2. Walmart’s truck did have a collision avoidance system.

Walmart Transportation trucks are equipped with forward collision warning systems. The driver should have heard a pre-crash warning to brake.

Unfortunately, the systems don’t have data recorders—“black boxes.”

That means the only person who would know if the crash avoidance warning actually worked is the driver.

 

3. The truck driver was probably really fatigued (or asleep) …

“His fatigued condition diminished his awareness, and he failed to reduce his speed or respond appropriately to the slowed vehicles ahead of him, resulting in the crash.”NTSB crash report

“Driver fatigue” sounds like a problem that a trucker can solve with a break, or a nap.

When the crash occurred at 1 a.m., the trucker:

  • Had been on duty for 13 hours, 32 minutes of his 14-hour shift;
  • Had driven 12 hours from his home to the Walmart distribution center just before his shift started; and,
  • Could have only slept 4 out of the previous 33 hours—at most.

Was the truck driver tired, or was he actually asleep?

 

4. But he never spoke to investigators.

The trucker’s attorney said the NTSB’s “facts are wrong” about the driver being awake for 28 hours at the time of the crash. He said the investigators never spoke to the truck driver.

NTSB says the truck driver refused to be interviewed (very likely, I would add, at the advice of his attorney). He is facing criminal charges in New Jersey for the crash.

This also left investigators puzzled about another unanswered question: why did the trucker accept the final load on his shift that night? He couldn’t have had it delivered before he hit the maximum hours he could legally work.

 

5. The limo van’s interior had been modified, and passengers couldn’t get out.

Interior of limo van, image from truck accident NTSB investigation

This slide from the NTSB’s presentation shows the crushed interior of the limo after the collision.

 

Partitions had been added to the limousine van, separating the passengers’ area from the front seats, and from the rear compartment.

Passengers could only get in or out through one side door. After the crash, rescue efforts were delayed: witnesses and the first responders couldn’t get to the victims inside the limo van.

 

6. Injuries were probably worse because passengers didn’t wear seat belts.

The board also concluded that the passengers in the limo van weren’t wearing seat belts.

“The serious injuries sustained by the passengers seated in the passenger compartment of the limo van were caused by flailing and secondary impacts with the interior, other occupants, or intrusion/contact with the vehicle sidewall and roadway …” – NTSB crash report

It’s not that seat belts would have prevented injuries: a massive semi-truck struck the vehicle at 65 mph, but the injuries could have been reduced.

The NTSB investigation points out that occupants of buses, vans and limousines often don’t wear seat belts. The recommendation: limo drivers should give reminders to buckle up, even though these vehicles are designed for passenger conversation and comfort.

“Seat belts save lives, no matter what type of vehicle we are in and no matter who is driving,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart added.

 

See the full NTSB report.

A note on seat belt safety, brought to you by Coluccio Law: