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NTSB again calls for mandatory data recorders

July 15, 2015
Latest crash report finds lack of recorder hampers investigations

In its formal report regarding the investigation of a horrific truck-motorcoach collision last year that killed 10 people outside Orland, CA, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is again recommending that event data recorders (EDRs) be installed on commercial vehicles.

“With access to event data recorders, we might have been able to determine why the truck crossed the median, which could have enabled us to make recommendations to prevent it from happening again,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart in his remarks at agency’s crash briefing yesterday.

“Much of the reason that aviation is so safe today is that we have required such recorders for decades so that we can learn the lessons of accidents,” he added. “But they are still not required in commercial trucks or motorcoaches despite more than a decade of recommendations by the NTSB.”

Mark Rosenker, who served as NTSB chairman from 2005 to 2009, stressed a similar point during a presentation at the 2015 ALK Transportation Technology Summit back in May.

“Accidents never involve only one thing; they are a chain of events that come together for a catastrophic result,” he explained. “Thus the NTSB’s mission is to establish what happened, how it happened, determine the probable cause, and make sure it never happens again. And that’s where data can make a really big difference.”

In the Orland crash that occurred on April 10, 2014, NTSB determined that a 2007 Volvo truck-tractor operated by FedEx Freight crossed a 58-foot-wide median, struck a 2013 Nissan Altima four-door passenger car, and then collided head-on with a 2014 Setra motorcoach.

Both the truck and the motorcoach drivers were killed, along with eight motorcoach passengers, while 37 motorcoach passengers and two occupants of the passenger car sustained injuries.

NTSB said its Investigators were unable to determine why the truck crossed the median, but they ruled out both truck and motorcoach driver inexperience, licensing and training, as well as alcohol and drug use, mechanical factors, and weather as causes of the crash.

Likewise, the agency said it found no evidence that the truck driver suffered from distraction, fatigue, or that he intentionally crossed into opposing traffic.

Along with its renewed call for mandatory EDRs on trucks and motorcoaches, NTSB offered several other recommendations:

  • That motorcoach interiors be designed with improved flammability requirements;
  • That current motorcoach safety standards lack adequate requirements for emergency lighting and signage and should be beefed up to require independently powered lighting fixtures, use of photo luminescent material to mark emergency exits, and windows that remain open after being opened for emergency evacuations;
  • That motorcoach companies provide a pre-trip safety briefing or video concerned safety and evacuation procedures;
  • That a secondary door be installed on motorcoaches for use as an emergency exit to expedite evacuations and reduce the potential for injuries caused by jumping from window exits.

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