A1/2004Y A head-on collission involving a heavy vehicle combination and a charter coach on highway 4 at Konginkangas near the town of Äänekoski, Finland on 19.3.2004
On Friday 19.3.2004 at 02:08, a traffic accident occurred at Konginkangas near the town of Äänekoski on highway number 4. The trailer of a heavy vehicle combination (full trailer combination) on its way from Viitasaari to Helsinki, collided with a charter coach, used by Sunny Buses Ltd (Aurinkobussit Oy), on its way from Helsinki to Kuusamo. The full trailer combination was loaded with paper reels and Transpoint Oy Ab owned it. There were 36 passengers on the coach at the time of the accident. The driver of the coach and 22 passengers perished in the accident. The rest of the passengers were seriously injured. The driver of the full trailer combination escaped uninjured.
The full trailer combination had left from Helsinki on 18.3.2004 at 20:33 for Viitasaari, loaded with case goods. Another of the same company’s full trailer combinations, having departed from Rovaniemi, was loaded in Kemi with paper reels. Both vehicles arrived in Viitasaari during the night of 19.3.2004. The drivers exchanged pallets and trailers, whereafter the vehicles took off from Viitasaari for Helsinki and Rovaniemi, respectively, at about 01:30.
About half an hour after having departed from Viitasaari the vehicle heading towards Helsinki arrived in a place at Konginkangas where the road curves to the left in the driving direction. At this location, there is a northbound overtaking lane. In a downhill curve, about 550 metres before the point of the collision, the trailer of the vehicle began to fishtail (travel with a side-to-side motion) and approximately 150 metres before the point of impact the trailer’s rear swung beyond the right hand shoulder of the road into a snow drift down the slope in such a way that the rear wheels were travelling, at most, at a distance of four metres from the edge of the asphalt. The trailer rose back onto the road and the entire vehicle drifted into the left. The driver tried to steer the vehicle back into its own lane, but the trailer continued in the left lane, which was being used by the oncoming coach.
The coach, travelling in its own lane, collided almost head-on with the centre front wall of the trailer. Due to the force of impact, the front part of the coach was crushed. The trailer’s detached front wall penetrated nearly halfway into the cabin of the coach, pushed by the trailer’s load of paper reels (about 800 kg each).
The full trailer combination continued forward for approximately 25 metres after the collision and the trailer pushed the coach backwards down the slope of the road. The tractor was slowed down by the impact and thrown to the left in the driving direction. Finally, it heavily impacted the left side of the coach. After the impact, the tractor was thrown into the left hand ditch in the driving direction. The trailer, which remained coupled to the truck, stayed on the road next to the coach in the same lane as the coach. According to the tachographs of both vehicles, the full trailer combination and the coach were travelling at approximately 70 km/h at the time of the collision.
The investigation revealed, among other things, that both drivers had valid driver’s licences and that neither alcohol nor any other intoxicant was present. The route planning of both vehicles was done in such a manner that it was not possible to complete the trips by following the prescribed speed limits or regulations on driving hours and rest periods. No such technical faults that would have contributed to the cause of the accident were detected in either vehicle. The gross combination weight of the tractor-trailer exceeded the maximum permissible weight by approximately 4 100 kg. The excessive load was not determined to have played a crucial part in the accident.
The road at the accident site was extremely slippery as the surface of the road had frozen after a local rain shower. Both vehicles exceeded the 80 km/h winter speed limit and, taking into account the slipperiness of the road, travelled at too high situational speeds. The maintenance contractor of the road had not received information about the approaching rain shower.
The investigation commission carried out re-enactive road test runs at the accident site and based on the results, computer simulations were made to establish the causes for the loss of control of the vehicle combination.
The investigation commission determined the causes of the accident by using a methodology that was developed for road and cross-country traffic accident investigation commissions. Direct causal factors were found in the way the full trailer combination and the coach were controlled. Indirect causal factors were found in the vehicles, the traffic situation and factors in the transport system. Additionally, factors contributing to the increase of injuries were found. A total of 32 causal factors were established, of which some were direct and others indirect. The direct cause of the accident, as regards the driver of the full trailer combination, was the loss of control of the vehicle. The selection of an unfavourable driving line, the high situational speed and the driver’s possibly reduced state of alertness were the most noticeable contributing factors. The direct cause, regarding the driver of the coach, was the detection error that delayed an evasive manoeuvre. The high speed in slippery conditions was noted as a contributing factor.
When it comes to the full trailer combination, the weak structure of the trailer’s body, the insufficient anchoring of the load and the high situational speed of the vehicle contributed to the number of fatal and serious injuries. As for the coach, the low crashworthiness of the front part of the coach, the fact that seat belts were not worn, the high situational speed and the large weight difference between the vehicles were noted as factors causing additional injuries.
The investigation commission made a total of 21 safety recommendations, of which 13 were directed to the Ministry of Transport and Communications. Additional recommendations were made to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Ministry of Finance, the Finnish Vehicle Administration AKE, the Emergency Response Centre Administration, the Finnish Road Administration (Finnra) and to the Finnish Bus and Coach Association.
Concerning the improvement of safety of heavy traffic the investigation commission considers the following five recommendations the most important:
The speed limiting devices for lorries shall be set at the vehiclewise maximum speed of 80 km/h.
Legislation should be changed so that, pursuant to the recorded tachograph data, the driver can be penalized for having exceeded the vehiclewise speed limit.
A successfully completed course of anticipatory driving for heavy traffic should be a pre-requisite for being allowed to take a driving test for a coach or a vehicle combination licence.
The supervisor (or a supervisory entity) of the driver shall be made legally liable for his role in a possible violation or consequence.
The penalties and other consequences that are imposed for driving hour and rest period violations, working time legislation violations and for exceeding vehiclewise axle and bogie loads and gross vehicle weights should be made more severe. Penalties and consequences should bear real significance to the driver and to the haulier as well as to those in the transport chain who with their own actions, by giving inadequate or incorrect information, by using their right to direct work or by applying other such direct control, have contributed to the arising of an unlawful situation.