NTSB: Tighten up on pilot cars and require CDL endorsements for oversized loads

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 7/15/2014

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a list of recommendations to state and federal agencies as part of its final report about last year’s collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River in Washington state.

Among them are recommendations for states to certify pilot car operators, ban unauthorized use of cellphones for pilot car operators, and require CDL holders to obtain endorsements on their licenses before they can haul oversized loads.

The NTSB also recommends that Washington state use a two-car pilot system rather than a single-car system, saying that a second pilot car could have helped prevent the bridge collapse.

On May 23, 2013, an oversized load on a flatbed trailer being pulled by a Canadian trucker hauling for Mullen Trucking struck an arched support above the deck of the Skagit River Bridge. Seconds later, a section of the bridge collapsed, sending two trailing passenger vehicles into the river. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries.

In its final report, the NTSB identified a number of deficiencies and failures that contributed to the crash. For example, a second tractor-trailer, later identified as a Kenworth belonging to Motorways Transport, also of Canada, was attempting to pass the oversized load as the two vehicles approached the bridge. The driver of the oversized load told investigators that the interaction forced him to stay to the right where his load then struck the overhead arch.

Had the driver of the oversized load been allowed to drive down the center rather than moving to the right, the bridge strike would not have occurred, the NTSB said.

Investigators also concluded that the driver of the pilot car was likely on a cellphone at the time of the incident – although the NTSB does not say whether the cellphone use was related to job duties or was personal.

Lastly, the NTSB is urging state and federal agencies along with GPS and routing software companies to collect and share better data on bridge dimensions and take steps to update signage and clearance indicators.

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