A fatal eight-vehicle crash was caused by a truck driver’s fatigued state, which may have been the result of untreated obstructive sleep apnea, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Dashcam video of the June 12, 2020, incident reveals that although there were warning signs indicating the driver should have slowed for stopped traffic, he failed to brake or take any evasive action to avoid collision.
Didn’t respond to warning signs, visual cues
The truck driver was traveling about 70 mph on Interstate 39 near the Township of Arlington, Wisconsin, when he approached traffic that had stopped due to two earlier crashes in the lanes ahead. Emergency responders had already set up advanced warning signs regarding the earlier crashes to notify approaching traffic.
Despite the warning signs and other visual cues indicating he should stop, the truck driver maintained his speed and made no effort to avoid the stopped traffic.
His tractor-trailer collided with the rear of a sport utility vehicle before continuing forward into other vehicles and forcing them to crash into other cars and commercial vehicles. A total of eight vehicles were involved in the crash. Four people died, including the truck driver.
Records, testimony point to obstructive sleep apnea
There was no indication that the truck driver had used drugs or alcohol, was distracted or had a medical emergency.
Because the driver died in the crash, the exact details of his sleep activities leading up to the crash couldn’t be verified. However, investigators determined he was suffering from fatigue, although his schedule indicated he was getting enough opportunity for sleep between work periods.
Medical records and testimony from the truck driver’s wife revealed he may have been suffering from untreated obstructive sleep apnea, which meant the quality of sleep he was getting wasn’t sufficient and led to fatigue. One symptom of fatigue is attention lapses, brief periods when awareness and responsiveness are impaired.
Investigators found that it was just such an attention lapse that caused the crash, explaining why the truck driver failed to respond to the traffic situation ahead of him.
NTSB push for sleep apnea medical certification
The NTSB report points out that “commercial motor vehicle drivers must remain alert and vigilant to changing roadway conditions and traffic hazards” so drivers should avoid any sort of impairment, including fatigue.
Because of this incident, the NTSB is pushing a previous recommendation that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration implement a program to identify truck drivers who are at a high risk for obstructive sleep apnea. That program would require identified drivers to go through a medical certification proving the sleep apnea is under control before being allowed to drive a commercial motor vehicle.