Faulty Tractor Trailer Hitches Could Be The Cause Of A Fatal Ohio Truck Accident And Is The Center Of An NHTSA Investigation
According to a recent news report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), certain trailer hitches manufactured by Alabama-based Fontaine Fifth Wheel may be defective leading to dangerous tractor trailer accidents on Ohio roadways. According to an investigation stemming from a 2014 accident that killed two, the tractor trailer hitch called the “Ultra LT” may be responsible for a large number of tractor trailer accidents where the cab disconnects from the cargo hold.
The NHTSA began its investigation after Fontaine Fifth Wheel decided to replace all of its hitches for “non-safety related” reasons. This raised a red flag with the agency, who opened the investigation in June 2015. The NHTSA reports that several tractor trailer accidents involving trailer hitches have all been the Ultra LT hitch manufactured by Alabama-based Fontaine Fifth Wheel. According to the NHTSA report, the Ultra LT is used in about 6,000 tractor trailers in the United States. [http://www.dailyjournal.net/view/story/b9a33284cb604dc79f7e7d8ecd3c18ef/US–Runaway-Trailer, July 2015]
The NHTSA investigation uncovered 12 complaints about the hitches, including one additional crash with no injuries. According to the report, three truck companies have already recalled about 2,400 tractors using the Ultra LT hitches to replace a faulty piece connecting the trailer to the hitch.
The NHTSA has requested that Fontaine Fifth Wheel turn over all communications regarding the Ohio-based crash. Previously, Fontaine had reported to the NHTSA that the Ohio crash was caused by a “user error.” The incident report from the Ohio State Highway Patrol stated that the trailer hitch came unlatched due to frozen grease build-up on the connecting pin. When the trailer became unlatched, the trailer slid across the road, striking one pick up truck and killing its driver then hitting a second vehicle and killing the driver of that vehicle as well.
The incident report stated that if the tractor trailer driver had inspected the joint more closely, he would have realized that the hitch was loose. The truck driver was convicted of two counts of vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to a year’s probation.
This is not the first time the company’s trailer hitches have been implicated in a deadly accident. In June 2013, a Fontaine Fifth Wheel hitch came loose and killed seven in New York, including four children. According to the report by the New York State Highway Patrol, the cause of the accident was a faulty locking mechanism. The driver was pulling a trailer full of salvaged vehicles when the hitch gave way. The trailer slid into the opposite lane and crashed into a van carrying eight people. Seven of those people were killed. The hitch model in this accident was not the Ultra LT, but a different design. The accident report stated that the hitch was bent, but the NHTSA did not conduct a federal investigation of that hitch model. [June 2013, http://www.landlinemag.com/Story.aspx?StoryID=25295#.VaV8k_lViko]
Fontaine Fifth Wheel has stated that it will cooperate with the NHTSA investigation. The company has until July 24 to share all communication and data with the NHTSA, who will make their assessment and recommendations at that time. The NHTSA has not stated whether it will declare a recall or take criminal action against Fontaine Fifth Wheel after the conclusion of the investigation.
Wright & Schulte LLC
865 S. Dixie Dr.
Vandalia, Ohio 45377