NTSB rules fatigue, HOS violations probable cause of Naperville crash

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | 2/10/2016

A trucker’s delayed response due to lack of sleep is being blamed as the probable cause of a 2014 fatal crash in Illinois that killed one state highway worker and seriously injured a state police officer.

In addition, a lack of oversight by the driver’s company to ensure that its employees adhere to federal hours-of-service regulations and inadequate safety oversight by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration were contributing factors in the incident, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Tasked with investigating civil aviation accidents as well as significant accidents in other modes of transportation, the board met Tuesday to examine the findings in the case and to offer recommendations to improve safety.

The Jan. 27, 2014, crash on Interstate 88 near Naperville claimed the life of one Illinois tollway worker – Vince Petrella – and seriously injured trooper Doug Balder. According to the investigation, a tractor-trailer operated by Michael’s Cartage of Bridgeview, Ill., became disabled in the right lane of I-88. Balder and Petrella arrived in separate vehicles to render aid to the stalled tractor. A tow truck was also called to the scene. Later on, the driver of a 2004 Freightliner and flatbed trailer operated by DND International failed to yield to the stopped vehicles in the right lane and collided with them from behind.

The NTSB found that the DND International truck driver, 48-year-old Renato Velasquez, slept a total of less than 4.5 hours in the day and a half leading up to the crash. Velasquez was convicted in 2015 of operating a motor vehicle in a fatigued state and other violations. He was sentenced to three years in prison in April 2015.

Among the four new recommendations is a proposal that FMCSA develop and implement a program to automatically notify insurance companies when one of their insured carriers had BASIC scores rising to the level of “high risk”. The board also suggested forming a working group consisting of “safety partners, industry representatives, and insurers… to share information that would work best to induce noncompliant and unsafe carriers to take appropriate remedial action.”

NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said the board’s recommendations would help level an uneven safety playing field.

“The FMCSA’s ability to identify high-risk carriers means little unless it can act promptly and effectively to make changes to improve safety or pursue another line of business …” he said. “From the point of view of responsible commercial operators and drivers, these measures would help to level the playing field. Compliant carriers should not be forced to compete with marginal carriers that ignore necessary safety precautions and thereby reap an unfair advantage.”

At the time of the crash, both carriers had alerts in multiple BASICs, the investigation revealed.
The alerts for DND International were in the areas of unsafe driving and hours-of-service compliance. The alerts for Michael’s Cartage were in the areas of unsafe driving, hours-of-service compliance, driver fitness, and vehicle maintenance.

The board also recommends FMCSA use its “Fit, Willing and Able” policy to suspend the operating authority of any carrier that has five or more intervention alerts in its BASICs, with the carrier being informed of what actions it must take to demonstrate that it has corrected its safety issues.

It also recommended reviewing the process and procedures for imminent hazard orders to identify ways in which the process can be made to work more swiftly and effectively. DND International was able to successfully overturn an imminent hazard order the FMCSA placed it under following the crash.

Along with the four new recommendations, the board also reiterated H-12-17, which would include Safety Measurement System rating scores in the methodology used to determine a carrier’s fitness to operate in the safety fitness rating rulemaking for the CSA initiative.

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