In announcing the findings of its investigation into the crash on Interstate 75 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, NTSB scolded the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration as well as Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet for allowing Cool Runnings Express driver Benjamin Scott Brewer to have a commercial driver license, even though he had been involved in seven accidents, three in CMVs, during the previous five years.
According to the NTSB, Brewer was under the influence of the stimulant methamphetamine and had exceeded his hours of service and falsified his logbook before he slammed his tractor-trailer into two cars while driving about 80 mph in a congested work zone to start a nine-vehicle pileup that ended 448 feet from the point of initial impact.
NTSB said that commercial trucks are involved in 11.4% of all fatal crashes, a figure that rises to 30.1% in work zones, in part because they drive more miles in such areas than passenger cars.
“This driver clearly exhibited a disregard for public safety,” NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said. “It’s absurd that somebody could have driving record like this and … get licensed to drive a commercial motor vehicle.”
Brewer was licensed in Kentucky, the only state that doesn’t require CDL applicants to list their accident history. Idaho includes such data in a separate pre-hiring report that carriers can request. So Cool Runnings Express had met its legal obligations in hiring the 39-year-old Brewer, who has been charged with six counts of vehicular homicide, four counts of reckless aggravated assault, driving under the influence of narcotics, speeding and making false reports about his duty status.
NTSB staff encouraged FMCSA to prod carriers to use a pre-employment screening process and hair testing for controlled substances that could have uncovered Brewer’s full driving record. Only about 1% of fleets use PSP today. Sumwalt noted that the FMCSA ignored a pair of NTSB recommendations from 2012 that would have prompted carriers to consider prospective drivers’ records going back a decade.
“Fatigue and impairment lead to so many tragic outcomes,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said.
“The saddest thing about this is this is not a new issue,” said Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, who blamed FMCSA for “stalling” its rulemakings.
While the NTSB lamented the lack of rumble strips in the work zone, it said that Tennessee officials had "immensely exceeded” the required visual warnings.