Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program
Driver of a Semi-Tractor Pulling Twin Trailers Fatally Injured in Single Vehicle Crash
In the spring of 2008, a 40-year-old tractor-trailer driver died after his vehicle left the interstate highway, crashed, and was engulfed in flames. The tractor drifted over the fog line and rumble strip onto the right shoulder, began to skid and left the highway. The tractor slid through the grass beside the roadway, struck a concrete culvert, sideswiped a small tree and then hit a large tree head-on. The tractor and trailers then skidded back down the embankment toward the highway where the entire unit came to rest. The tractor and lead trailer overturned onto the driverís side. The second (rear) trailer uncoupled from the first trailer but remained upright and attached by safety chains. Emergency medical services were contacted. Upon arrival, EMS found the entire unit engulfed in flames. The coroner was contacted, and upon his arrival, declared the driver dead at the scene.
To prevent future occurrences of similar incidents, the following recommendations have been made:
The company the driver was employed by had been in business for seventy-five years and had approximately 6,200 employees of which 5,600 were drivers. They owned approximately 5,600 power units and 10,000 trailers, and hauled dry goods, food items, and miscellaneous less-thantruckload (LTL) type freight.
According to the company, the decedent had been employed by the company for six years and had been actively driving for seventeen years. He held a commercial driverís license for eighteen years. The driver traveled a fixed route of 500 miles which took eight hours and he worked approximately 40 hours a week. He operated the same tractor (day cab) each trip and began his route at 9:30 P.M. every evening. The driver received safety training upon being hired and received continuing safety education provided by the company. He was not involved in loading or unloading cargo either for his truck runs or on days off.
Temperatures for the day the incident occurred ranged from 70º Fahrenheit to 84º Fahrenheit.
The Kentucky Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program was notified of an occupational fatality involving a tractor-trailer driver. Interviewed for this report were the company which employed the driver, Kentucky State Police, and local coroner.
At 9:30 P.M. the tractor driver, whose job entailed transferring trailers between two warehouses, began the 500 mile route pulling twin trailers from the origin warehouse dock. The tractor was classified day-cab, weighed approximately 15,500 pounds, 18 feet 9 inches in length and was equipped with a speed governor which regulated maximum speed to sixty-three miles per hour and anti-lock brakes, but not a stabilizer system. The first leg of the driverís route was approximately 250 miles south of his start. Upon arriving at the second warehouse he dropped off two trailers, then after connecting two awaiting trailers he departed north to the warehouse from which he originated. Each trailer weighed 7,900 pounds empty and each was twenty-eight feet long and was equipped with an automatic braking system (ABS). The freight on the first trailer weighed 19,073 pounds and was placarded ďflammableĒ. The freight on the second trailer weighed 17,246 pounds. The total weight of the semi and trailers was approximately 67,500 pounds and the total length was seventy-four feet nine inches. The trailers contained a variety of LTL dry goods: butane lighters, aerosol spray paint, motor oil, zero turn lawn mowers, oil and air filters, and hot tubs. The driver was expected to arrive back at the warehouse approximately eight and one half hours later at 6:00 A.M. the following morning.
Upon leaving the warehouse with the two trailers, the driver headed north. At approximately, 4:00 A.M., the driver was in the right-hand lane of a four lane interstate highway. The posted speed limit was 70 miles per hour. The roadway was straight and level. It was dark and the highway was unlit. Weather conditions were clear and the asphalt was dry.
The driver drifted over the fog line, rumble strip, and onto the emergency shoulder. Skid marks indicate that when the tractor hit the rumble strip the driver engaged the brakes, which lockedup. With the brakes locked-up, the tractor and trailers skidded fifty-six feet on the paved shoulder then left the shoulder and continued to slide sixty-four feet in the grass before striking a concrete culvert. After hitting the culvert, the unit continued to travel up a steep earthen embankment for eighty-eight feet and swiped a small tree with the right-side of the tractor. Continuing up the embankment the tractor hit another tree head-on. At this point the truck and trailers skidded down the embankment where they came to rest approximately 130 feet from contact with the first tree. The tractor and lead trailer overturned on the driverís side while the rear trailer uncoupled from the first trailer but remained upright and attached by safety chains. During the crash, both trailers caught fire and were completely engulfed. Some of the trailersí contents were scattered across the highway, shoulder, and embankment alongside the roadway. At 4:09 A.M., a tractor trailer driver traveling north at the same location did not see the crash occur but came upon the burning tractor trailer and called Emergency Medical Services (EMS). EMS arrived at the scene at 4:21 A.M., discovered the driver in the truck cab and contacted the coroner. The coroner arrived and pronounced the driver dead at the scene. An autopsy of the driver was conducted to confirm identification. There were no witnesses to the crash.
A company representative stated that the driver stopped prior to the crash to rest/eat but it is
Cause of Death
According to the death certificate, the cause of death was due to blunt impacts of head and torso
with multiple fractures and hemothorax.
Recommendations and Discussion
Recommendation No. 1: Semi tractor-trailer drivers should be trained to recognize signs of fatigue and when to seek appropriate rest areas.
Fatigue is one of the main occupational hazards commercial drivers face. Commercial drivers should be educated to recognize signs of fatigue while driving. According to an article, ďDriver Fatigue: The Dangers of Driving SleepyĒ, signs of driver fatigue include daydreaming, straying out of the lane, excessive yawning, feeling impatient and/or stiff, heavy eyes, and reacting slowly. Methods to avoid driver fatigue include being well rested, getting enough sleep, taking breaks every two hours where the driver may take a nap, eating a snack, avoiding consumption of alcohol, having a driving plan, and staying hydrated. Companies should assist drivers in fighting fatigue by establishing polices requiring drivers to stop every 100 miles driven or every two hours driven for a rest break. When hauling hazardous materials, company policy should require rest breaks more frequently. Also to help fight fatigue, companies should consider varying driversí routes to keep drivers from becoming inured to routine.
Every driver should have a route plan that incorporates appropriate rest areas to give the driver access to meals, a safe quiet place to nap, and to be able to stretch or walk to stimulate circulation. In case a driver becomes fatigues while driving, companies should provide drivers with maps with designated rest areas for semi truck drivers along the route. The plan should also provide information on roadside assistance if needed.
Photograph of the two trailers involved in crash. Semi involved is on the flatbed.
The Kentucky Fatality Assessment & Control Evaluation Program (FACE) is funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Safety and Health. The purpose of FACE is to aid in the research and prevention of occupational fatalities by evaluating events leading to, during, and after a work related fatality. Recommendations are made to help employers and employees to have a safer work environment. For more information about FACE and KIPRC, please visit our website at: www.mc.uky.edu/kiprc/.
To contact Kentucky State FACE program personnel regarding State-based FACE reports, please use information listed on the Contact Sheet on the NIOSH FACE web site. Please contact In-house FACE program personnel regarding In-house FACE reports and to gain assistance when State-FACE program personnel cannot be reached.