Horrific accidents such as these led to advances in vehicle safety technology, the passing of new safety legislation, as well as much greater awareness of the extreme dangers of intoxicated driving.
Other U.S. traffic accidents are noteworthy for their sheer scale and the number of vehicles involved. Often, as you will see, these accidents involved unexpected or rapid changes in weather conditions, and motorists’ failure to adjust their behavior quickly enough.
Here are some noteworthy traffic accidents in U.S. History:
December 11, 1990
Shortly after 9:00 a.m. on Interstate 75 in Tennessee near Calhoun, a dense fog rolled in and covered the highway. There were warning signs posted, but the conditions had changed so quickly they were of little help to motorists. A 99-car pileup ensued. The wreckage was spread out over half a mile, and 13 people lost their lives. Vehicle fires, which only worsened the visibility problems, led to the dispatching of 33 different fire departments.
Tennessee has since installed an improved fog warning system, with fog sensors that can quickly and automatically change the display on highway signs to alert motorists. This system can also close highway on-ramps to prevent pileups, while reflective markers and flashing lights can help guide vehicles already traveling through the fog.
November 29, 1991
Motorists returning home after the Thanksgiving holiday along Interstate 5 in California were engulfed in winds exceeding 40 miles per hour. Due to a severe drought that year, many of the surrounding farmlands had been left unplanted. The high winds whipped up the dry topsoil and created a dust storm that severely reduced visibility, leading to a series of crashes that became a 104-car pileup stretching over a mile of highway. Rescue efforts continued for many hours, and 17 people died while 150 were seriously injured. Several thousand motorists were trapped in their cars for most of the day as road crews worked to reopen the highway. It remains one of the worst traffic accidents in California history.
February 22, 2000
In Stafford, Virginia, after a series of balmy days, the temperature dropped rapidly and a sudden snow storm created white-out conditions that took motorists by surprise. On Interstate 95, a pileup ensued involving 117 vehicles, the worst in Virginia history. One person died and 31 more were injured. A remarkable combined response by various state agencies and authorities led to the rescue and recovery of all victims, the clearing of the wreckage, and the reopening of the highway in just 12 hours.
March 14, 2002
At 7:45 a.m., a heavy fog formed on Interstate 75 in Catoosa County, Georgia. A tractor-trailer, unable to see more than a car-length ahead, struck another tractor-trailer from behind, sending it over the median and into the southbound lanes. The ensuing accident pileup involved 125 vehicles, closed both directions of traffic, and led to the deaths of four people. Thirty-nine more were injured.
November 3, 2002
The largest multi-car accident in U.S. history occurred on this day, around 25 miles south of Los Angeles, California, on Interstate 10. Despite it involving an astounding 216 vehicles, there were no deaths reported. However, 41 people were injured. The pileup began around 7:00 a.m. when a tractor-trailer struck a concrete divider, but the primary cause of the accident is believed to be a thick fog that formed over the area in the morning. Visibility was severely reduced. Two miles of highway had to be closed until late in the afternoon.
November 3, 2007
A 5-year-old boy and a 26-year-old man were killed, and more than 36 others injured, in a 108-vehicle pileup on Highway 99 near Fresno, California. Dense fog was the precipitating factor in the accident, and more than nine tractor-trailer vehicles were involved.
January 6, 2008
Drivers failing to adjust their speeds in the presence of a thick fog caused two separate accidents on either side of Interstate 90 in Madison, Wisconsin. A vehicle pileup ensued involving 100 vehicles spanning both sides of the highway. Two persons died and there were over 50 injuries, while thousands were stranded for hours because of the blocked traffic.
January 19, 2009
Snowy, icy roads were to blame for at least 20 vehicle accidents in Washington County, Maryland on this day. The worst accident involved 7 tractor-trailers and 35 cars, resulting in two deaths and 35 injuries, 12 of which were serious. The American Red Cross was able to take 45 people to one of its shelters until the road conditions improved.
February 14, 2010
A large snowstorm struck Kansas City, Kansas and caused multiple traffic pileups across the city. However, one pileup that occurred just before 1:00 p.m. on Interstate 70 involved 140 vehicles. Although multiple injuries were reported, there were thankfully no deaths.
December 1, 2011
Despite Tennessee’s efforts to improve fog detection and driver notification, the state’s largest multi-vehicle crash occurred on this day, involving 176 vehicles. A combination of fog and black ice during the morning commute were to blame. Although a school bus full of children was involved, none of the passengers were injured. The only death was that of a male driver whose car slid under a tractor-trailer, but 16 more were treated for mostly neck and back injuries. After a cleanup effort lasting 24 hours, 50 vehicles had still not been removed from the roadways.
November 12, 2020
Most recently, nearly 30 vehicles were involved in a pileup along Interstate 94 in Monticello, Minnesota. The crash began at 9:15 a.m. and was likely caused by poor visibility and icy roads. Nine people were hospitalized with minor injuries. Of the 29 vehicles involved, nearly half were tractor-trailers. Cleaning up the oil and wreckage debris lasted until early evening, when the road was finally re-opened.