NTSB Says Truck Driver's Fatigue and Drug Use Were Factors In Crash That Killed Sixby Jana Ritter - Published: 10/05/2016
After determining that fatigue and methamphetamine use were reasons behind Benjamin Brewer's failure to slow down and causing a multi-vehicle accident that killed six people in June of 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has now issued seven new safety recommendations. The safety issues pertain to findings related to the truck driver’s performance, drug testing programs, inadequacies of driver license records and background checks, and the overrepresentation of trucks compared to other vehicles in work zone crashes.
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The tragic accident occurred on June 25, 2015 when Benjamin Brewer of London, Kentucky was driving a semi tractor-trailer operated by Cool Runnings Express and traveling northbound on Interstate 75 near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Brewer failed to notice he was entering a marked work-zone where traffic had slowed ahead of him and instead of slowing, he crashed into the backed up traffic at an estimated highway speed of 80 mph. The semi slammed the rear of a Toyota Prius and started a chain-reaction crash that involved seven other vehicles and a total of 18 people. Six of those people lost their lives as a result of his error.
This week, the NTSB released the results of it’s crash investigation, which brought damning allegations against Brewer who is still awaiting trial on vehicular manslaughter charges. First, the investigation determined that he did not slow down from a speed of about 80 mph despite ample warnings that he was approaching a construction zone with a 55-mph limit. They also found no indication of heavy braking or any evasive efforts to avoid the collision. Even worse, is that Brewer's post-accident drug test indicated illegal methamphetamine use prior to the crash, and the NTSB ruled the effects of the drug had degraded his driving performance. The report also determined that although Brewer had the opportunity to get sufficient overnight rest before that day on the job, he had likely gone without sustained rest for 40 hours prior to the accident.
“Our investigation reveals how this driver’s choices and actions, in the days and hours before the crash, led to the crash and loss of life,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “Ending impairment in transportation and reducing fatigue-related accidents are on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List because fatigue and impairment have led to so many tragic outcomes – not only in commercial trucking but in all modes of transportation,” he added.
The NTSB also pointed to its December 2015 recommendation to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to determine the prevalence of the use of impairing substances by commercial motor vehicle operators and the failure of the pre-employment screening process to identify driver risk factors. They indicated that in this incident the truck driver’s employer, Cool Runnings Express, did not have the truck driver’s entire driving history, including previous accidents, which limited its ability to assess his safety performance and potential risk before hiring him for the job. The company’s employee screening process also failed to determine that Brewer had been fired from a previous trucking job two years earlier because of illegal drug use. A hair test administered under an unrelated court order less than three months before the crash had also turned out positive for meth.
The NTSB report also stressed that the number of trucks involved in fatal crashes in work zones is much higher than other vehicles involved in fatal crashes in work zones and reiterated the agency's September 2015 recommendation to the Federal Highway Administration to add supplemental traffic control strategies and devices for work zone projects.