After an unusually high number of trailer separations, the NHTSA has begun an investigation into Ultra LT hitches manufactured by Fontaine Fifth Wheel of Trussville, Alabama.
Devil’s Backbone Crash Spurs Investigation
The investigation comes after a Jan. 24, 2014 crash in Cincinnati on a hill called “The Devil’s Backbone”. A truck’s trailer detached and hit a line of morning commuters, killing two. The truck driver was investigated on suspicion that he had not properly inspected the hitch, but now, 17 months later, the NHTSA says the hitch, rather than the trucker, may have been at fault for the fatal accident.
NHTSA Criticized for Slow Reaction to Warning Signs
The NHTSA has once again drawn criticism, this time because of the enormous length of time between the crash and the start of the investigation. The NHTSA maintains that they acted correctly. They did launch an investigation into the Ultra LT hitch in 2011 after Fontaine issued a service bulletin. That problem was corrected. But in 2012 when Fontaine revealed another problem with the Ultra LT hitch, the NHTSA did not believe that the issue needed investigation.
Reports to the NHTSA from the truck’s maker, Navistar, and Fontaine both blamed the trucker for the Devil’s Backbone crash. The driver, Michael Simpson, says that the morning of the crash, the hitch failed to lock the first three times he tried to use it, but it did lock on the fourth try. He drove a short distance to test it, but said that he felt uneasy about he hitch and checked it again before the crash. Ohio State Patrol said that the cold weather and frozen grease were responsible for the crash.
Simpson was convicted of vehicular manslaughter earlier this year.
The NHTSA estimates that around 6000 trucks across the U.S. could be using the Ultra LT hitch.