Truck driver died of thermal injuries after his tractor-trailer crashed into concrete median on the interstate and burst into flames

Iowa Case Report: 11IA075
Report Date: September 18, 2012

The following report is the product of our Cooperative State partner and is presented here in its original unedited form from the state. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the individual Cooperative State partner and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.


A 40-year-old long-distance truck driver died in 2011 from thermal injuries after his tractor-trailer struck a concrete barrier median on an interstate highway. The driver was the single occupant of a fully loaded tractor-trailer travelling east at highway speed on a six-lane section of interstate. The truck tractor struck the concrete median in an abrupt steering movement toward the left, and then moved along the concrete median, damaging the drivers-side fuel tank and generating friction and heat, which ignited diesel fuel in the tank. The driver steered to bring the vehicle away from the median and the trailer jackknifed, striking the median with a force that broke sections of median barriers and knocked the rear dual axles off the trailer. The box of the trailer then rode up on top of the median and continued to ride on top of the median as the vehicle moved east. The vehicle came to rest when the trailer flipped onto its left side. The center of the trailer was on top of the median, and the rear of the trailer was on the north side of the median in the inside shoulder of west-bound lanes. The tipping of the trailer twisted the tractor, causing the tractor to rest against the center median with the passenger side elevated. The tractor cab and engine were engulfed in flames. Firefighters responded and extinguished the fire and then located the driver’s body outside the cab. The cause of the crash was not determined, but fatigue or distracted driving may be plausible causes. The driver had concluded a cell phone conversation 10 miles west of the crash site. Shortly after this and other similar crashes involving semi-truck drivers, legislation was passed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) banning handheld cell phone use while driving a truck involved in interstate commerce.

Truck driver died of thermal injuries after his tractor-trailer crashed into concrete median on the interstate and burst into flamespdf icon [PDF 1,174 KB]

Page last reviewed: November 18, 2015