NTSB: Median Barriers Could Have Prevented N.J. Drunk Driving Accident

February 9, 2006

In a report adopted this week, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that alcohol impairment caused a driver to lose control of his vehicle in a Linden, New Jersey traffic accident. In the report, the Board noted that had a median barrier been present at the accident site the vehicle likely would not have crossed into oncoming traffic, killing six people.

“Accidents like this are why eliminating hard core drinking and driving is on our Most Wanted list,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Mark Rosenker.

The accident occurred on May 1, 2003 at about 2:00 in the morning when an off-duty police officer driving a Mercedes CLK320 south on U.S. Route 1 lost control of his vehicle, mounted and crossed a six-inch-high raised curb, and entered the northbound lanes where he collided with a Ford Taurus occupied by a driver and four passengers. All five occupants in the Taurus and the Mercedes driver were killed in the crash.

The investigation determined that during the evening prior to the accident the Mercedes driver stopped at a local bar, attended a softball game where beer was present, and then returned to the local bar. Although no one at the bar or the softball game recalled seeing him drink alcohol, toxicology tests on the Mercedes driver reported a blood alcohol concentration of .326 percent.

The Board uses a BAC of .15 percent or greater as one of the defining criteria for a hard core drinking driver. Therefore the Board reiterated a previous recommendation, H- 00-26, asking New Jersey to establish a comprehensive program designed to reduce the incidence of alcohol-related crashes, injuries, and fatalities caused by hard core drinking drivers.

Contributing to the severity of the crash was the lack of a median barrier at the accident site. Guidelines provided by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, and adopted by New Jersey Department of Transportation, suggest that raised curb medians, like the six-inch-high median at the site, are best used on low-speed urban arterial roadways.

The guidelines further note that on high-speed roads striking a raised curb median can cause a vehicle to trip, overturn, or become airborne. Current median barrier guidelines are inadequate for determining when to install a median barrier at sites like the accident site.

Although the accident segment of U.S. Route 1 has a posted speed limit of 40 miles per hour, traffic surveys showed that the median nighttime traffic speed was 62 mph.

The Board recommended that the Federal Highway Administration and AASHTO work together to establish criteria for determining when to install median barriers on high-speed, high-volume roadways regardless of access type. The Board also recommended that the City of Linden develop and implement a speed enforcement plan for U.S. Route 1.

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