The National Transportation Safety Board has released its final report on a Jan. 17, 2003, car accident that killed four Yale students traveling northbound on Interstate 95.
The report said the government’s failure to install a median barrier capable of sustaining impact by a heavy vehicle contributed to the accident, which killed Kyle Burnat ’05, Andrew Dwyer ’05, Sean Fenton ’04 and Nicholas Grass ’05 on their trip home from a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity event in New York City. The 32-inch barriers contributed to the accident because they were too short to stop a truck that overrode them and blocked the Yale students’ path, NTSB representatives said.
The concrete barrier was unable to withstand the impact of the truck and was ruined in the accident, NTSB spokesperson Paul Schlamm said. Paul Breen, assistant district engineer for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, said the barriers on the I-95 near Fairfield, Conn., the site of the accident, are still 32 inches tall.
Senior Research Director for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety Gerald Donaldson said he was disappointed the Federal Highway Administration has not changed the barriers since the accident occurred. The NTSB and several highway safety advocacy groups are now calling on the FHA to consider replacing the 32-inch concrete barriers with larger barriers capable of redirecting heavy trucks upon impact, a move that Donaldson said is costly but necessary.
“They were never intended or even capable of withstanding medium-sized vehicles, let alone heavy vehicles,” he said. “There’s a very narrow range that you can use them in. [The FHA] knew that barrier provided no protection whatsoever. This highway authority knew this would occur eventually, but they did nothing to prevent it.”
FHA spokesman Doug Hecox said that the FHA takes the NTSB’s conclusions seriously and will follow the recommendations of the report.
But Donaldson said that he thought the FHA would likely try to modify the existing barriers rather than pay for the replacement of all barriers.
The NTSB accident report also cited bad road conditions and fatigue on the part of Fenton, the driver, as contributing factors, Schlamm said.
The 2003 accident occurred when the students were driving on an icy, dark part of the freeway during early morning hours. A 42,000 pound truck, which was carrying several generators, that was traveling in the opposite direction crashed into and broke through the barrier dividing the freeway. The truck blocked the path of the students’ Chevy Tahoe, which hit the truck’s trailer.
“For the families and classmates and friends of the victims, it is no less tragic today than it was at the time,” University Secretary Linda Lorimer said.
Hencox said more information regarding the FHA’s response to the report will be available soon.