B1/2006Y Collision Involving a Car Transporting Vehicle Combination and a Coach at Pyhtää on 6 February 2006, as well as a Précis of Road Transport Volumes between Finland and Russia
An accident occurred on Monday, 6 February 2006, on highway 7 at Pyhtää. A vehicle combination (car transporter) on its way to Russia and a coach coming from Kotka to Helsinki collided. There were nine passengers on the coach, two of whom perished in the accident. One person was seriously injured, five escaped with minor injuries and three were uninjured.
The accident occurred on a straight stretch of road when the car transporter drifted into the opposing traffic’s passing lane. The coach was in that lane overtaking a semi-trailer. When the driver of the coach noticed the oncoming car transporter, he made an evasive manoeuvre by trying to steer to his right. However, because the semi-trailer was on his right side, he could not fully complete the manoeuvre. The car transporter and the coach collided, impacting at their front corners. At impact, the car transporter was travelling at 79 km/h and the coach at 87 km/h. Just a moment before the collision, their speeds were 80-85 km/h and 105 km/h, respectively. Since the winter speed limit was 80 km/h, the coach was clearly speeding. High speeds aggravated the outcome of the accident and reduced the chances of it being avoided.
The Emergency Response Centre of Southeast Finland was promptly alerted and dispatched several rescue units and ambulances to the scene of the accident. A sufficient number of medical rescue units arrived at the site and all injured persons were rapidly taken to hospital. However, nothing could be done to save those that had expired. The Rescue Department’s task was relatively straightforward. They were to prevent any further accidents from happening and to support the first-response units.
The most probable direct cause of the accident was that the car transporter’s driver had momentarily fallen asleep at the wheel. He had been on the road for 42 hours without proper rest. During this time, he had taken his longest break in Russia, on his way to Finland. This break lasted for 4 hours and 58 minutes, ending 32 hours prior to the accident. Although the car transporter was parked for approximately 4 hours in the port of Hanko, the driver had spent part of this time loading and securing the cars onto the transporter. All other breaks had each lasted well below an hour. Further reducing the driver’s state of alertness was his failure to eat proper meals.
The accident occurred in transit transport, involving the transport of cars and sport utility vehicles (SUV) via Finnish ports to Russia. This traffic is heavy, involving some 660 car transporters (loaded and empty) on Finnish roads each working day. The continuous growth of heavy traffic increases accident risks and the probability of a major accident. When it comes to car transports, it appears that the domestic share in the transport chain is low and that the overall plus/minus ratio is unfavourable from the Finnish standpoint.
In order to avoid similar accidents in the future, the investigation commission recommends that the prevention of asleep-at-the-wheel-accidents be adopted as a special theme in improving the safety of eastbound transport. Furthermore, the road safety practices of coaches should be improved and highway 7 should be converted into a motorway as soon as possible. The investigation commission also recommends that the volume of road transit transport be controlled in a manner that limits safety risks to an acceptable level. Other recommendations include increased surveillance of heavy vehicles arriving in Finland, permitting the use of longer midaxle trailers, tackling the problem of speeding coaches as well as developing emergency response contingency planning.