ANNAPOLIS, Md. – For anyone who saw it happen, the scene was terrifying.
“An 18-wheeler just pushed it right over the wall,” said one frantic 911 caller.
“The car went over the rail and into the water,” yelled another.
The 22-year-old woman who plunged 40 feet off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge after last week’s crash has an incredible story of survival, but the spotlight is starting to shift toward the bridge’s safety.
Why was the driver put in that harrowing position?
“What we heard from Maryland was, ‘Our barriers comply with federal standards,'” says AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson.
The auto club is asking the National Transportation Safety Board to step in and inspect the Bay Bridge’s barrier railing system. In a letter to the NTSB, Anderson says the crash raises questions about whether the bridge’s restraint system failed, whether it met federal specification or if those specifications may not be adequate for this kind of crash.
Bruce Gartner, executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, says Friday’s accident was unique.
“We had an extensive look at the restraints on the Bay Bridge in 2008, all those investigations said we have great structural integrity of those barriers,” he said.
“AAA, the transportation authority, we’re essentially in the same business — having all of our customers travel safely.”
Anderson says under federal regulations, barriers must be strong enough to contain cars but not necessarily trucks.
“Do they need to revise federal standards? Did these barriers not meet the federal standards? Was there a failure?” Anderson says.
The Maryland Transportation Authority says engineers found no structural damage from this crash at the scene. Authority police and Maryland State Police are investigating the crash and the authority says it welcomes NTSB involvement and insight.
“If the NTSB is interested in investigating, we would certainly welcome that,” Gartner says. “Truck traffic on the bridge, we do monitor that closely for weight, for width and during wind restrictions.”
Gartner says all drivers have different comfort levels when crossing the bridge, but he believes they should feel safe.
“(Drivers) are going to need to hear more from us in the coming weeks and months, and that’s fine.”