This past May marked the 40-year anniversary of one of the worst commercial truck accidents in Houston history. In this article, we take a moment to reflect on the tragic events and examine what we can all learn from the fatal mistakes involved.

Tragedy Strikes On the Morning of May 11, 1976

Shortly after 11:00am on May 11, 1976, a tanker truck traveling on the 610 West Loop and carrying 7,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia hit a support beam and fell onto the Southwest Freeway below. The truck just missed landing on a car, likely sparing at least one life, however the impact caused the truck to spill its entire 7,000-gallon load. Anhydrous ammonia spilled onto the Southwest Freeway, and the toxic fumes from the lethal liquid killed seven people in the vicinity. Almost 200 other suffered serious injuries.

As recalled by the Houston Chronicle:

“The fumes that were released proved fatal for those who were too close. Freeway traffic was closed for three miles in all directions. Most nearby residents left their homes. Those who were close enough to detect the smell were told to relocate until the odor dissipated.”

Following an investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a report that revealed three probable causes of the accident:

  • Excessive Speed – According to the NTSB, the truck was traveling at an “excessive speed” at the time it struck the support beam and left the overpass. This was deemed to be the primary factor leading to the accident.
  • Lateral Surge of Liquid – The NTSB also determined that the force of the 7,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia (less than a full load) shifting in the tanker was a contributing factor in causing the truck to overturn.
  • Failure of the Overpass Railing – Finally, the NTSB determined that the “failure of the bridge rail to contain or redirect the vehicle” was a contributing factor in allowing the truck to fall from the overpass to the freeway below.

All-Too-Common Factors in Houston Truck Accidents

Unfortunately, as we have previously discussed, the factors that led to the 1976 Southwest Freeway disaster continue to be among the leading causes of tractor trailer and semi-truck accidents.

Speeding is a persistent problem on the highways in and around Houston; and, despite improvements in tanker and container technology, shifting and improperly-secured loads continue to present major risks as well.

Similarly, although the risks of trucks and other vehicles departing the roadway are well-known (not just on overpasses, but even on ground-level roads as well), inadequate guards and railings are regularly cited as factors in rollovers and other dangerous truck accidents. It is unfortunate that drivers and passengers continue to face these risks 40 years later; but, this is a reality of life, and one for which too many innocent individuals end up paying the price.

Morrow & Sheppard LLP | Houston Truck Accident Lawyers

At Morrow & Sheppard LLP, we are committed to helping truck accident victims in and around Houston, TX fight for the compensation they deserve. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a trucking collision, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation. To speak with an attorney about your case, call us at (800) 489-2216 or request an appointment online today.