In a public meeting on December 11, 2012, the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, discussed the highway accident report of a collision involving a semi truck and an Amtrak train. According to the report, at around 11:19 a.m. on June 24, 2011, a semi approached a crossing in Miriam, Nevada, which was currently occupied by Amtrak train number 5. Despite the flashing lights, two descended crossing gate arms, and two cantilever signal masts, the truck failed to stop. In the ensuing collision, a fire engulfed two train cars and damaged a third. The semi and several passenger cars of the train were destroyed. The train’s conductor, four passengers, and the truck driver were killed. Sixteen more passengers and one train crew member suffered injuries.
According to the report, weather, drug or alcohol use, and malfunctions or lack of warning devices for the crossing were not factors in the accident. Rather, “The accident could have been avoided had the truck driver been more attentive and responsive to the visual cues available to him or had the brakes on the truck been in adjustment and operational.” While the exact reason for the driver’s inattentiveness and delayed braking are unknown, the report cites “fatigue, distraction from using his hand-held cell phone, and distraction from pain associated with his medical ailment” as possible reasons.
Furthermore, the NTSB found that the driver’s employer, John Davis Trucking, had used brake maintenance procedures that were improper and, among other improper maintenance procedures, eleven of the sixteen brake drums were “worn beyond specified limits.” Reportedly, the driver of the semi had previously been involved in at least three accidents and cited for over a dozen moving violations.
The NTSB made a variety of recommendations related to this accident, including:
- Creation of a mechanism that would gather and record employment history of all commercial drivers.
- The development of on-board brake stroke monitoring systems performance standards for all commercial vehicles using air brakes.
- A revision of John Davis Trucking’s vehicle maintenance in order to follow recommended practices.
Trucking regulations and proposed trucking regulations have long been trying to prevent accidents like this by requiring drivers’ get enough rest, are examined by certified physicians, and requiring companies to perform adequate inspections and maintenance on vehicles. Accidents happen, but regulators hope that accidents that could have been prevented will decrease as a result of stricter regulations.