The NTSB this week released a probable cause report on a fatal crash that claimed the life of an Illinois State Toll Highway Authority officer and severely injured an Illinois State Police officer.
According to the report, the NTSB cites driver fatigue and FMCSA “inadequacy” as contributing factors in the fatal crash.
“The National Transportation Safety Board announced Tuesday that the probable cause of a fatal January 2014 crash near Naperville, Ill., was a truck driver’s delayed reaction caused by fatigue and the poor safety behavior of a high-risk motor carrier,” the NTSB report states.
“The NTSB found in addition to the driver’s fatigue, caused by inadequate sleep, the failure of the high-risk carrier DND International to ensure that its driver adhered to federal hours-of-service regulations contributed to the crash. Also contributing, the NTSB found, was the federal regulator’s inadequate safety oversight of high-risk carriers.”
At approximately 7:45 p.m., on January 27, 2014, 39-year-old Tollway worker Vincent Petrella and trooper Douglas Balder were stopped on the shoulder of I-88, near mile marker 122, helping a truck driver who was parked in the emergency lane.
“An Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (ISTHA) 2010 International single-unit flatbed help truck, along with an Illinois State Police (ISP) 2011 Ford Crown Victoria patrol car stopped behind the Volvo combination vehicle to render assistance and to warn oncoming traffic of the blocked lane,” the NTSB report states.
A tow truck arrived and was parked in front of the disabled truck.
Flashing lights from Balder’s vehicle warned other drivers away. In addition, “emergency lights on the responding vehicles included an active arrow board on the ISTHA help truck…and flares were placed in the road around the Volvo combination vehicle,” the report states.
At approximately 9:20 p.m., a 2004 Freightliner truck, driven by DND International driver Renato V. Velasquez, 46, was traveling in the right lane of eastbound I-88.
Velasque’s truck collided with the emergency vehicles from behind. The truck “first collided with the ISP patrol car, pushing it off into the right shoulder and ditch, and then continued forward into the ISTHA help truck, before going off into the right shoulder and ditch itself. During the collision all three steel coils being transported by the Freightliner combination vehicle became detached from the flatbed semitrailer. One of the steel coils made contact with the ISTHA help truck and came to rest in the center lane of I-88.”
The impact of the collision pushed the ISTHA help truck into the back of the disabled vehicle, which then collided with the tow truck. Sadly, ISTHA help truck worker Vincent Petrella died at the scene.
Balder’s patrol vehicle exploded into flames. The severely injured trooper managed to crawl from his vehicle. The tow truck driver and passenger were not injured.
Velasquez suffered minor injuries.
During an investigation of the accident, investigators discovered that despite “several clearly visible warning indicators on the roadway,” crash reports indicate that Velasquez’s truck did not slow or steer to avoid the stopped vehicles.
Investigators learned that Velasquez had been on duty for 37.5 hours and had only rested for 3.5 hours.
“Fatigued driving kills,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart, “and motor carriers that do not ensure that their drivers follow regulations designed to prevent fatigued driving are unsafe and should not be able to continue operating.”
“According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Safety Measurement System, at the time of the accident, the carrier in operation of the Freightliner combination vehicle, DND International of Naperville, IL, had alerts in 2 of the 5 BASIC categories on which a carrier is measured. An alert indicates to the FMCSA that the carrier exceeds an intervention threshold, and is prioritized for intervention action, based on violations documented during roadside inspections. The alerts for DND International were in the areas of unsafe driving and hours of service compliance. At the time of the accident, the carrier in operation of the Volvo combination vehicle, Michael’s Cartage of Bridgeview, IL, had alerts in 4 of the 5 BASIC categories. The alerts for Michael’s Cartage were in the areas of unsafe driving, hours of service compliance, driver fitness, and vehicle maintenance,” an earlier NTSB report states.
“Both DND International and Michael’s Cartage had longstanding records of poor safety behavior and were categorized as high risk carriers by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Yet for years, due to lack of resources and unsuccessful regulatory action, the FMCSA was unable to get the carriers to improve their safety behaviors in a meaningful way or to stop them from operating,” the NTSB states.
NTSB Chairman Hart said, “High-risk carriers are a threat to all who use our roadways. Such carriers cannot be permitted to operate with impunity, as did the two carriers involved in this tragic and preventable accident. Today’s recommendations, if implemented, will expand the FMCSA’s toolkit for ensuring that high risk carriers either conduct their businesses safely or cease operations.”
Inadequacy of FMCSA efforts to address the safety deficiencies of high-risk carriers or prioritize action to halt their operations: Both motor carriers involved—DND International and Michael’s Cartage—had longstanding records of operating unsafely, causing the FMCSA to classify them as high-risk carriers. Unsafe operations on the part of DND International led to the circumstances that caused this crash. DND International, which operated the 2004 Freightliner combination vehicle, did not ensure that its drivers adhered to hours-of-service requirements, which enabled the driver fatigue that caused the DND International driver to strike the group of vehicles stopped in the right lane of eastbound I-88. Had DND International adhered to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), it is possible that the driver of the Freightliner combination vehicle would not have been so fatigued as to run into the stopped vehicles. The FMCSA is responsible for overseeing motor carrier compliance with the FMCSRs, a duty that the FMCSA carries out through a variety of interrelated systems. With respect to its oversight of the high-risk carriers DND International and Michael’s Cartage, the FMCSA had substantial evidence over a long period that they were significantly deficient in compliance with the FMCSRs, but the FMCSA did not take effective action to keep either carrier from operating unsafely.
As a result of the investigation, the NTSB makes four new safety recommendations to the FMCSA and reiterates one recommendation to the FMCSA.
1. The DND International Inc. driver was impaired by fatigue at the time of the crash due to his lack of adequate sleep, which resulted in his delayed response to the vehicles stopped ahead of him.
2. The DND International Inc. driver routinely falsified his logbook entries and had a history of logbook falsification.
3. DND International Inc. failed to adequately monitor its drivers’ compliance with hours-of-service rules.
4. The Michael’s Cartage Inc. driver routinely falsified his logbook entries and had a history of logbook falsification above the critical level.
5. Michael’s Cartage Inc. failed to adequately monitor its drivers’ compliance with hours-of-service rules.
6. The owner-operator of the 2000 Volvo truck-tractor that became disabled and stopped in the right lane of eastbound I-88 failed to adequately maintain his vehicle.
7. Although the Carrier Safety Measurement System appropriately identified DND International Inc. as a high-risk carrier, procedural delays in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration oversight process allowed this high-risk carrier to continue to operate without intervention for at least 2 years.
8. Although Michael’s Cartage Inc. was the subject of numerous compliance reviews that resulted in conditional and unsatisfactory safety ratings, and its Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category scores were routinely unacceptable, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was not able to take effective action to stop the carrier’s noncompliant behavior and unsafe operations.
9. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was unable to act effectively on its Carrier Safety Measurement System data and compliance review results identifying high- risk carriers.
10. Motor carriers with Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category scores that define them as high-risk carriers have been proven to have a higher future crash risk than other carriers.
11. The significant and continuing delays in enacting rulemaking on the Safety Fitness Determination process is depriving the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration of the tools it needs to use its data most effectively to address the safety risks posed by high-risk carriers.
12. DND International stopped operating not through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s imminent hazard order process, which was ultimately unsuccessful, but because DND International’s insurance was cancelled due to nonpayment, when the insurer raised its rates after the January 27, 2014, crash. Notifying the insurer of a high- risk motor carrier that the carrier’s Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category scores indicate a heightened crash risk could prompt the insurer to increase its rate to offset the increased risk, which might place a sufficient financial burden on the carrier to persuade it to comply with safety requirements.
13. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration could most likely achieve more effective action to stop unsafe and noncompliant carrier behavior by working more closely with safety and industry partners, including insurers, to share relevant information.
14. Although the new “Fit, Willing, and Able” policy appears to be a promising approach to strengthening Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration compliance oversight, the agency could have a more significant safety impact by using this authority more often with respect to high-risk carriers.