On a cool, clear, early spring morning, three logging business employees were riding in a company-owned crew truck to their jobsite in the southeastern U.S. It was midweek, but the crew had not worked the day before.
The crew truck driver and the front-seat passenger were in their late 40’s to early 50’s, while the rear seat passenger/crew foreman was in his 60’s. All were experienced employees who were cleared to drive the vehicle.
The driver of the crew truck had picked up two passengers, and he let one of the passengers drive. At some point, the driver and passengers all fell asleep. It was approximately 80 minutes before sunrise.
In the Highway Patrol’s report, an eyewitness to the accident stated that “the crew truck traveled north, suddenly veered across the center line and impacted a group of pine trees.” It hit so hard that a front tow hook stayed embedded in the tree when the vehicle was removed by a tow truck. The highway patrolman stated that the driver never applied the brakes, and eyewitnesses said the vehicle did not slow down.
Estimated speed of impact was 55 mph; there were no skid marks at the accident scene. The truck burst into flames. The fire was fueled by the truck’s fuel tank and the extra diesel tank in the truck’s bed.
The driver and front-seat passenger died from the impact and fire. The rear-seat passenger suffered severe multiple injuries and burns but managed to crawl out through the back window. He was airlifted to a hospital.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CORRECTION:
- Make sure all drivers are aware of the warning signs that a driver is in danger of falling asleep. Signs may include: Yawning or rubbing the eyes repeatedly; drifting from your lane, tailgating, missing signs or exits; turning up the radio or rolling down the window; frequent blinking, nodding of head, longer duration blinks; trouble focusing thoughts or vision.
- Any driver exhibiting a “drowsy driving” warning sign should pull over as soon as it is safe and switch drivers, take a break/nap, drink a caffeinated beverage, or other safety step.
- Owners and employees should reduce the fatigue factor by getting adequate rest, nutrition, and hydration. Be observant of the driver’s physical and mental condition. Consider overnight accommodations closer to the jobsite if the distance from home is excessive.
- Using a large-capacity vehicle (and one with a fuel tank that is not spill-proof) to carry employees can put the whole crew at risk.
- Employers must train and educate employees on the dangers of early morning driving and to use caution on rural roads. See the following fact sheet from drowsydriving.org for tips to prevent a fall-asleep crash: http://drowsydriving.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/DDPW-Drowsy-Driving-Facts.pdf.
FRA Southwide Safety Committee;
Rick Meyer, Appalachian/Southwide Region Manager