The National Transportation Safety Board released their final report on a 2018 fatal truck crash involving 3 semi-trucks and 4 passenger vehicles. The final report finds identifies issues from the NTSB’s most wanted safety improvements list* as factors.
The fatal truck crash
On March 1, 2018, a commercial semi-truck driver merging into Interstate 290 in Illinois struck the rear of a Chrysler passenger car that was slowed for traffic.
The impact pushed the Chrysler into another tractor-trailer; that truck was pushed into the semi-truck ahead.
The third truck’s trailer swung out across the other lanes of traffic, colliding with a car that was then struck by two more vehicles.
Each vehicle was occupied by only the driver. Five of the drivers were injured. One driver was uninjured. The driver of the Chrysler hit by the semi died.
As the initial rear-end collision started a pileup of seven vehicles, the NTSB investigation focused on the first truck driver, who was working for Pioneer Transportation.
The NTSB report identifies three primary safety issues: the lack of a collision avoidance system, the trucker’s medical fitness for duty, and fatigue.*
While the technology to prevent rear-end semi truck crashes is available, it is not required. The NTSB has made repeated pleas for lawmakers to take action on this issue. The agency’s official recommendation is to increase the implementation of collision avoidance systems in all new highway vehicles.
The final report identified the probable cause of the fatal truck crash as the Pioneer driver’s:
“failure to respond to slow-moving traffic due to a performance decrement
likely caused by fatigue associated with his untreated sleep disorder.”
Truck driver’s medical fitness
Before the crash, the Pioneer driver had already been diagnosed with a number of medical conditions.
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA);
- type 2 diabetes;
- a previous episode of severe kidney disease;
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD);
- high cholesterol, and
- morbid obesity.
Not all of these conditions would necessarily affect the trucker’s ability to drive safely. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common medical cause of fatigue, however. That makes it a particularly dangerous medical condition for a professional driver. For truck drivers, sleep deprivation is a safety issue.
The NTSB investigation also noted multiple problems with the current system of medical certification for commercial interstate truck drivers. All three truckers involved in the fatal pile-up had lied to obtain medical certifications.
… It is noteworthy that the three commercial drivers involved in the crash all failed to report relevant medical conditions during their medical certifications.
Based on his medical conditions, the Pioneer truck driver should have been referred for a sleep study. But he wasn’t.
The screening physician didn’t know that the Medical Review Board recommendations for sleep apnea had been updated by the FMCSA in 2016.
The agency’s official recommendation: Require Medical Fitness – Screen for and Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
See the full NTSB report (pdf).
* According to the agency: The NTSB’s Most Wanted List outlines 10 issue areas that serve as the agency’s road map for safety recommendations ripe for action, and that if implemented have the potential to prevent accidents and save lives.