Bellegarde english summary
At around 2:22 on Saturday 31 October 2009 at PR 16.5 on the A54 motorway (Gard department, near Bellegarde), on the Arles-Nîmes carriageway, a pile-up occurred involving : an articulated lorry, a coach with a trailer, a private car and a rigid truck with a gross vehicle weight of 8.6 tons including tow.
This pile-up involved 35 road users (including 29 coach passengers) and resulted in the death of one person, three seriously injured and four people with minor injuries, as well as considerable material damage.
This accident has causes related to driver behaviour : the main cause is the inappropriate speed (with regard to the visibility distance) of the rigid truck, which hit the car in front of it at 78 km/h, and determined the seriousness of the pile-up ; the inappropriate speed of the private car which hit the trailer of the coach also constitutes an ancillary cause ; the unexpected stopping of the articulated lorry in the middle of the road as the result of a complete lack of visibility allowed the pile-up to occur.
This accident also has a contextual cause : the uncontrolled burning of plant matter on the motorway verge. This burning, carried out with no regard for any safety rules, caused thick smoke which, combined with a relatively dense fog, suddenly reduced drivers’ visibility to almost nothing and created the conditions which caused the pile-up.
The analysis concerned three areas open to preventive recommendations :
the behaviour of drivers in the event of sudden reduction of the visibility distance on the motorway ;
advanced emergency braking systems ;
the practice of burning plant matter on the verges alongside a major road.
The BEA-TT did not consider it appropriate to make formal recommendations but it reiterated several points concerning obeying the rules (speed, stopping distances, burning of plant material) and suggested certain guidelines which might prevent this type of situation, if implemented : identification and dissemination of best driving practice in the event of sudden loss of visibility ; the use of advanced emergency braking systems ; precautions to be taken by motorway users in the event of observing burning.