The NTSB Looks at the Safety of Commercial Truck Operations

By Don Karol

In the early morning hours of Saturday, June 7, 2014, the NTSB learned of a multiple‑ vehicle accident on the New Jersey State Turnpike near Trenton, New Jersey. The crash reportedly involved a Walmart tractor-trailer combination vehicle that struck the rear of a limousine bus. The impact initiated a chain-reaction crash involving six vehicles. During the crash, the limousine bus overturned and one occupant was killed; four others were injured. The NTSB launched a team of investigators to New Jersey. The investigative team will conduct a safety investigation to determine what can be done to prevent similar tragedies in the future. Although we will be working in close coordination with the New Jersey State Police, our investigation will focus on safety issues and will be separate from the ongoing criminal investigation.

Truck and bus collision in Orland, CA
Truck and bus collision in Orland, CA

One area our investigators will look at closely is the safety of commercial truck operations. During the past year, the NTSB has responded to numerous crashes involving large trucks. Most recently, on April 10, 2014, NTSB investigators were launched to Orland, California, to investigate an accident in which a FedEx Corporation tractor-trailer combination vehicle left Interstate 5 southbound, crossed a center median, and entered the northbound travel lanes. The FedEx truck collided with a motorcoach carrying high school students on a trip to visit Humboldt State University. In the Orland crash, 10 people were killed and over 30 were injured.

Truck accident in Naperville, IL
Truck accident in Naperville, IL

In addition to the Orland, California, investigation, the NTSB has recently responded to accidents in Illinois, Maryland, Tennessee, and Kentucky that were initiated by commercial truck drivers’ failing to stop for slowing traffic ahead. This summer, we will be releasing the findings of two other major commercial truck crashes. One involved a truck transporting an oversize load that struck the Skagit River Bridge in Mount Vernon, Washington, resulting in a bridge span collapse. The other involved a truck that collided with a CSX freight train in Rosedale, Maryland, resulting in the derailment of the train, a postcrash fire, and an explosion.

The upward trend in crashes, fatalities, and injuries involving large trucks is a cause for concern. Since 2009, the number of fatal large truck crashes has steadily increased. In 2012, there were about 333,000 large truck crashes, which resulted in 3,921 deaths and more than 104,000 injuries. Of those killed, about 73 percent were occupants of vehicles other than the large truck.

The NTSB has a long history of making safety recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the trucking industry regarding the safety of trucking operations. These recommendations address important areas of concern, such as motor carrier oversight, vehicle maintenance, truck driver fatigue, medical qualification of drivers, and the need for collision avoidance technology.

Too often, responses to our recommendations have been slow or, in some cases, nonexistent. It should not take additional crashes and loss of life to inspire change. We hope to learn from our investigation of this recent crash on the New Jersey State Turnpike new ideas and approaches that will ultimately improve the safety of commercial trucking operations.

Don Karol is the director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.

4 thoughts on “The NTSB Looks at the Safety of Commercial Truck Operations”

  1. Tracy Morgan’s accident sadly reminded of my experience with an 18 wheeler in Arizona on highway I-17 (in the mountains) going north from Phoenix to Flagstaff during the day on May 1, 2014. I was doing the speed limit in the right lane when I noticed an 18 wheeler rapidly bearing down on me. When he was about two feet from my back bumper (Ford 150 pickup – crew cab) he began to veer toward the left lane, I immediately sped up to 85mph in a 55mph construction zone to avoid a certain death. Large truck drivers don’t appear to be as safe as they once were.

    1. I read your post Im happy you were able to avoid getting hit. Im a Truck Driver of 17 years. I have over 2 million safe miles. First let me say im not by any means perfect, I do make plenty of mistakes as we all do. There are several truck drivers on the road that shouldn’t be for sure however there are a lot of people that shouldn’t be. You are exactly right by saying trucks arent as safe as they use to be. Now im going to explain the main reason that is. Our wonderful government has implemented laws that are one of he main culprits. They don’t let this known to the general public because the laws in place are clearly for revenue purpose not safety. I wont explain all the laws you are free to look them up. Just some examples of what im talking about. We are expected to take 10 hour rest break after 11 hours of driving. I have no problem with that I actually agree with the rest periods. What makes this so unsafe to me you and all others on the road is once the 11 driving ours are up you have to rest for ten hours..what happens when someone like myself has problems sleeping during the day..I don’t sleep nor rest like I need to. So I am forced to sit there until the 10 hours are up then do to scheduling you have to now my break is over and its back to work and driving without much rest so from that point im now forced to drive tired. You may say take a nap. Believe it or not once the 10 hours are over every time we stop to eat, shower NAP etc.That time now goes against us not leaving much time for anything but drive. More drivers are falling asleep for just that reason. The old laws would allow us to rest more on our free will without that time going against us. The driver that hit Mr Morgan’s bus last Saturday was clearly at fault and needs to be accountable for what happened. The NTSB stated the driver was driving 24 hours with out a rest period. Wal Mart trucks has on board computer s and electronic logs. His truck would have shut down for 10 hours After 11 driving as per dot laws. So he wasn’t driving 24 hours straight. He most likely feel asleep behind the wheel because he was unable to rest during the times the government wanted him to versus taking that rest period when he was actually tired.. I wish every well in that accident and the family members involved. I honestly believe in my heart under the old laws that accident along with many others could have been prevented. That’s just one thing that is going on with this industry that the government wont tell you. Feel free to read up on the laws and I will gladly answer any questions you may have..thanks for reading

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