A semi trailer converted for use as a recreational vehicle crashed on a Kansas highway on Sunday, April 1, 2012. Five of the eighteen people on board died in the crash, and the survivors all suffered injuries. The occupants were members of an extended family traveling home to Minnesota after a vacation in Texas. The driver of the semi was a 17 year-old with a restricted Minnesota driver’s license. This has led the federal government to seek review of state graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws that would allow a teenage driver to operate such a large vehicle.
The Kerber family was traveling home on Interstate 35 in a Freightliner box truck and Haulmark trailer that had been modified to serve as a recreational vehicle. The vehicle reportedly weighed about 57,000 pounds. Two people, the driver and a 16 year-old, were in the cab of the truck, while the other sixteen rode in the trailer. According to investigators, only the two people in the cab were wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash.
Several of the children were motocross racers, and the family had attended a motocross race in Texas. The trailer had two sections. The front section had living quarters with furnishings and appliances, and the back section stored their motorcycles and equipment. Trailers like this are apparently popular in the motocross community.
At about 9:00 a.m. that morning, the vehicle reportedly lost control on I-35 near Williamsburg, Kansas. It crashed through a guardrail and fell into a ravine. Highway patrol identified the dead as three children, ages 10, 12, and 14, and a married couple, ages 24 and 25. The driver and the other injured passengers, ranging in age from 2 to 46, were taken to hospitals in Kansas City, Overland Park, Topeka, Olathe, and Ottawa. All have since been transferred to hospitals in Minnesota.
The driver was legally operating the vehicle in accordance with Minnesota’s GDL law, according to investigators. This appears to be due to a loophole in the law pertaining to personal recreational vehicles. He would not have been able to drive a commercial vehicle of the same weight and dimensions as the rig. Minnesota law also reportedly does not require seatbelts anywhere but the front seat of an RV.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a federal agency that issues recommendations for safety policies and procedures, announced that it would review the details of the accident and the state laws that allowed a teen with a restricted license to operate what was in essence a big rig truck. Had the rig not been designated as a private RV, any driver would need a commercial driver’s license and all the special training that comes with it. A spokesperson for the NTSB said that the number of passengers and victims was unusual, perhaps unprecedented, among recreational vehicle accidents, and that the case therefore merits the agency’s attention.
Kansas City auto accident attorney Doug Horn advocates safe driving and represents the rights of people who have suffered injuries or lost loved ones in auto accidents. For a free and confidential consultation, contact the firm today online or at (816) 795-7500.