On May 31, 2001, about 3:28 p.m. central daylight time, a southbound Gayle Stuart Trucking, Inc., truck-tractor semitrailer exited Interstate 540 at State Highway 282 near Mountainburg, Arkansas. The driver was unable to stop at the stop sign at the bottom of the ramp. The 79,040-pound combination unit was traveling approximately 48 mph when it entered the intersection and collided with the right side of a westbound, 65-passenger, 1990 Blue Bird Corporation school bus operated by the Mountainburg, Arkansas, Public Schools. The school bus rotated approximately 300 degrees clockwise and overturned; the body, which partially separated from the chassis, came to rest on its right side on the eastbound shoulder of State Highway 282. The tractor semitrailer continued across the roadway, rotated about 60 degrees clockwise, overturned, and came to rest on its left side.
Three school bus passengers seated across from the impact area were fatally injured; one was partially ejected. Two other passengers, one of whom was seated in the impact area, received serious injuries, and four passengers had minor injuries. The school bus driver and the truckdriver both sustained minor injuries.
The Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was the truckdriver's inability to stop the tractor semitrailer at the stop sign at the bottom of the ramp due to the reduced braking efficiency of the truck's brakes, which had been poorly maintained and inadequately inspected. Contributing to the school bus passengers' injuries during the side impact were incomplete compartmentalization and the lack of energy-absorbing material on interior surfaces.
The major safety issues discussed in this report are the poor condition of the tractor semitrailer brakes, inadequate motor carrier inspections and oversight, the use of propane tanks on school buses, and occupant protection within school buses.
As a result of its investigation, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the National Fire Protection Association, and spring brake manufacturers. The Safety Board reiterates a recommendation to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
As a result of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendations:
To the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:
Revise 49 Code of Federal Regulations 396.13, Driver Inspection, to require minimum pretrip inspection procedures for determining brake adjustment. (H-02-15)
Require that vehicle inspections of a motor carrierÂ’s fleet be conducted during compliance reviews. (H-02-16)
Revise 49 Code of Federal Regulations 396.25, Qualifications of Brake Inspectors, to require certification after testing as a prerequisite for qualification and specify, at a minimum, formal training in brake maintenance and inspection. (H-02-17)
During compliance reviews, rate companies as unsatisfactory in the vehicle factor category if the mechanics and drivers responsible for maintaining brake systems are not qualified brake inspectors. (H-02-18)
To the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
Obtain the authority, as necessary, and include fuel system integrity standards for aftermarket installations in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. (H-02-19)
To the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance:
Include spring brake caging port dust covers as an inspection item during Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program roadside inspections. (H-02-20)
To the National Fire Protection Association:
Amend National Fire Protection Association Standard 58, Storage and Handling of Liquefied Petroleum Gas, to require that (1) propane fuel systems installed in school buses be protected and (2) propane fuel systems meet the equivalent to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 301 crash protection standards. (H-02-21)
To Spring Brake Manufacturers:
Develop a spring brake that allows inspectors or mechanics to view components safely to determine whether the spring is broken. (H-02-22)
The National Transportation Safety Board also reiterates the following recommendation:
To the U.S. Department of Transportation:
Change the safety fitness rating methodology so that adverse vehicle or driver performance-based data alone are sufficient to result in an overall unsatisfactory rating for the carrier. (H-99-6)