On April 4, 2002, about 8:19 a.m., a 15-passenger Ford E-350 van, driven by a 27-year-old driver and transporting six children to school, was southbound in the left lane of Interstate 240 in Memphis, Tennessee. The van was owned and operated by Tippy Toes Learning Academy, a private child care center. A witness driving behind the van stated that the vehicle was traveling about 65 mph when it drifted from the left lane, across two other lanes, and off the right side of the roadway. She said that she did not see any brake lights. The van then overrode the guardrail and continued to travel along the dirt and grass embankment until the front of the van collided with the back of the guardrail and a light pole. The rear of the van rotated counterclockwise and the front and right side of the van struck the bridge abutment at the Person Avenue overpass before coming to rest. The driver was ejected through the windshield and sustained fatal injuries. Four of the children sustained fatal injuries, and two were seriously injured.
The Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the absence of oversight by Tippy Toes Learning Academy and the driver's inability to maintain control of his vehicle because he fell asleep, quite likely due to an undiagnosed sleep disorder; the driver's marijuana use may also have had a role in the accident. Contributing to the accident was the Tennessee Department of Human Services' lack of oversight of child care transportation. Contributing to the severity of the injuries were the use of a 15-passenger van to transport pupils, the nonuse of appropriate restraints, and the design of the roadside barrier system.
The major safety issues discussed in this report are child care transportation oversight and highway barrier design.
As a result of this investigation, the Safety Board makes recommendations to child care transportation oversight agencies in the 50 States and the District of Columbia, the State Departments of Transportation, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The Safety Board also reiterates a recommendation to 39 States and the District of Columbia.
As a result of its investigation of the April 4, 2002, 15-passenger child care van accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following recommendations:
To the State and District of Columbia Child Care Transportation Oversight Agencies:
Implement an oversight program for child care transportation that includes the following elements:
- Use of vehicles built to school bus standards or of multifunction school activity buses; (H-04-8)
- A regular vehicle maintenance and inspection program; (H-04-9)
- A requirement that occupants wear age-appropriate restraints at all times; (H-04-10)
- A requirement that drivers receive a criminal background check and have a medical examination to determine fitness to drive; (H-04-11)
- Preemployment, random, postaccident, and "for cause" drug testing for all child care transportation providers and the prohibition of anyone who tests positive for drugs from transporting children; (H-04-12)
- Review by an oversight agency of periodic driver background checks, medical examinations, and drug test results; (H-04-13) and
- A requirement that child care vehicles be labeled with the child care center's and oversight agency's names and phone numbers. (H-04-14)
To the State and District of Columbia Departments of Transportation:
Identify guardrails with anchored-in-backslope terminals and eliminate any that create a situation similar to a turned-down terminal. (H-04-15)
To the National Association for the Education of Young Children:
As part of your accreditation program, establish a transportation safety accreditation that requires applicants to implement the following elements: (H-04-16)
- Use of vehicles built to school bus standards or of multifunction school activity buses;
- A regular vehicle maintenance and inspection program;
- A requirement that occupants wear age-appropriate restraints at all times;
- A requirement that drivers receive a criminal background check and have a medical examination to determine fitness to drive;
- Preemployment, random, postaccident, and "for cause" drug testing for all child care transportation providers and the prohibition of anyone who tests positive for drugs from transporting children;
- Review by an oversight agency of periodic driver background checks, medical examinations, and drug test results; and
- A requirement that child care vehicles be labeled with the child care center's and oversight agency's names and phone numbers.
To the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials:
Modify the guidance contained in the Roadside Design Guide to clearly provide designers with information on the design of roadway barrier systems in situations where the roadway curves or where the terrain, hazards, and barrier system could trap an errant vehicle behind the barrier system. (H-04-17)
Previously Issued Recommendation Reiterated in This Report
The National Transportation Safety Board reiterates the following recommendation:
To the States (except Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, and Vermont) and the District of Columbia:
Require that all vehicles carrying more than 10 passengers (buses) and transporting children to and from school and school-related activities, including but not limited to, Head Start programs and day care centers, meet the school bus structural standards or the equivalent as set forth in 49 Code of Federal Regulations Part 571. Enact regulatory measures to enforce compliance with the revised statutes. (H-99-22)
Previously Issued Recommendation Classified in This Report
For the State of Vermont, the previously issued recommendation H-99-22 cited above is classified in this report:
Safety Recommendation H-99-22 (previously classified "Open-Acceptable Response") is classified "Closed-Acceptable Action."