Safety board cites driver fatigue in Oklahoma highway crash that killed 10 people

By Joan Lowy, AP
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NTSB cites fatigue in Okla. crash that killed 10

WASHINGTON — A tractor-trailer truck driver who slammed his rig into a line of cars stopped on a stretch of Oklahoma highway last year, killing 10 people, failed to stop because he was suffering from acute fatigue, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.

Board members also criticized government regulators and the trucking industry for not following safety recommendations — some of them a decade old — that investigators said could have prevented the accident.

It may be “time to turn up the pressure on the industry and the regulators to say, ‘Enough talk, we need to see more action,’ ” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said.

She pointed to a recommendation the board made in 2001 that heavy trucks be equipped with warning systems that provide visual and aural alerts to drivers when their truck is within 350 feet of colliding with another vehicle. The systems, which are available from several manufacturers, cost about $1,000 to $2,000.

The equipment could prevent an estimated 4,700 accidents and 96 deaths annually, investigators told the board. But there is no requirement that truck operators install the systems and relatively few trucks have them, they said.

Similarly, the board first identified fatigue as a serious problem in heavy truck accidents 20 years ago, but safety recommendations involving driver fatigue have gone unfulfilled for more than a decade. About 31 percent of all heavy truck accidents are due to driver fatigue, investigators said.

By the time regulators take action on some of the recommendations, “they’ll probably be 15 years old,” Hersman said.

In the Oklahoma crash, the truck driver — Donald L. Creed, then 76 — most likely had only five hours of sleep before starting his workday for Kansas City-based Associated Wholesale Grocers just after 3 a.m. on June 26, 2009, investigators said. By the time he was 90 miles northeast of Tulsa, the accident site, he had been on the road for more than 10 hours.

Creed also suffered from sleep apnea, which causes abnormal pauses in breathing and can prevent restful sleep. He also had recently been on vacation and was readjusting to a work shift beginning at a time of day when people most need sleep.

The accident was preceded by a minor collision, which had stopped traffic on Interstate 44 near Miami, Okla. Eastbound drivers cresting a rise could see the traffic jam ahead and began braking. However, Creed’s 40,000-pound rig barreled ahead at nearly 70 mph, smashing into a Land Rover and knocking it into another car and then off the highway. The truck then rode over first one and then another car, dragging both vehicles under its wheels, before coming to a stop atop a minivan.

There is no evidence that Creed tried to brake or take evasive action before hitting the other cars, investigators said. Some collision warning systems contain a feature that will automatically brake in such circumstances without any action by the driver.

The board recommended in 2000 that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration require trucking companies to employ fatigue risk management programs. The agency is working on a model risk management program that is expected to be ready in about two years. However, there is no requirement that trucking companies adopt the program once it is complete.

Investigators suggested that, as part of a fatigue management program, trucking companies screen drivers for sleep apnea. They said drivers with sleep apnea aren’t necessarily unsafe, but it’s important to ensure they are getting appropriate treatment for the disorder.

Creed has already pleaded guilty to 10 counts of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor in Oklahoma. He was sentenced last month to 30 days in jail and 10 years’ probation.

Creed was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, nor was he speeding — the speed limit on the turnpike is 75 mph. Prosecutors said his inattention caused the crash.


National Transportation Safety Board

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