By Sarah Schuberth
You are driving down a road and it starts to get dark. A few trickles of rain hit the windshield. The semi-truck in front of you is kicking up rocks and spraying your windshield as its tires hit the wet road. You check your blind spot and get over in the other lane to pass. It is getting windy, and the truck trailer is slightly moving back and forth. You slowly proceed to get past the truck so you can see the road ahead, when the truck veers slightly into your lane. You panic from the pressure of the wind pulling you toward the truck, and turn the wheel toward the median to get away from the 10,000 pound, moving steel building one-foot from your head. The car spins out of control and veers into oncoming traffic. The passenger cars lock up their brakes to avoid hitting you. The oncoming semi-trucks look in horror as they try, but are unable to stop. The impact of the collision is so great that your car ignites in a great explosion. The last thing you hear is a blaring semi-truck horn before everything goes blank. It may be a story to some, but to so many, that is the reality of the last moments of their lives.
When I was five-years old, a semi-truck crashed into my parent’s car. I remember going to visit them in the hospital, and being too scared to approach them with all the tubes coming out everywhere. My mom lost full use of her arm, but escaped with her life, that time.
There are many attributing factors that cause semi-trucks to be so dangerous on our roadways. Under ride, driver fatigue, and the size of semi-trucks are some of the biggest causes. According to the U.S. DOT, around 5,000 people a year die from semi-truck accidents. Chicago based law firm, Salvi, Schostok, & Pritchard have won over 650 million dollars on behalf of their clients. In 2011, there were “10,033 tractor-trailer crashes included 1,750 personal injury crashes and 81 fatal truck wrecks” in Illinois alone. A list of common injuries due to trucking accidents including: spinal injury, loss of limbs, and death, can be found at http://www.salvilaw.com/practice-areas/vehicle-accidents/truck-accident-lawyers/#axzz2NTCp6z2p.
According to a report from the NHTSA in August 2012, Almost three-quarters of fatal injuries occurred in crashes with at least some under ride Truck under ride refers to a vehicle hitting and going underneath the side, front, or rear of a semi. The LTCCSS study found that under ride is a “significant problem” in accidents involving semis and passenger vehicles. As of today, there are some regulations to prevent under rides on the rear of trucks. There are two different standards required for trailers depending on the date of manufacture. The 1953 standard require rear guards on vehicles with a cargo bed clearance of thirty inches or more. Any trailers manufactured after January 26, 1998, must be twenty-two inches under FMVSS 233 and 244. The LTCSS study also found there was some override/under ride in 72 percent of front impacts, and 53.9 percent when the truck is struck from the side.
There are some advancements being made to remedy the issue of under ride. The LTCSS study found lower front bumpers and lower guardrails correlated with fewer fatal accidents due to under ride. By strictly enforcing the new standard, fatalities can be reduced; however, the new regulations do not address the huge issue of side or front under ride
Another reason semi-trucks are so dangerous is because of driver fatigue. A study funded by the FMCSA and conducted by the Division of Neuropsychiatry, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, found a pattern of lacking sleep can affect a driver’s performance capacity for up to several days. The U.S. Transportation Safety Board estimates drivers who do not get enough sleep are a probable factor in up to 40 percent of all truck crashes. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). In a January 2012 report, cited multiple studies drivers who “admitted to often or sometimes omitting hours from their log books.”
Trucking companies put enormous pressure on their drivers, and offer bonuses for delivering shipments faster. There is hope for fighting the battle against driver fatigue. The FMCSA reduced the maximum number of hours truck drivers can drive in a seven-day period from 82 to 70 and now requires truck drivers to take at least two nights’ rest, per week, between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
The federal government also proposed installing an electronic device manufactured by Attention Technologies Inc., and validated by U.S. DOT, known as a DFM (Driver Fatigue Monitor). According to Attention Technologies, the DFM “mounts on the dashboard to the right of the steering wheel and has a compact video-based sensor measuring slow eyelid closure associated with drowsiness.” They also state DFM can “alert drivers to impending fatigue an hour before a potentially dangerous situation.” It also limits the number of hours a truck driver can be behind the wheel. If approved, the new regulations would go into effect as of 2015. This coupled with the government putting pressure on trucking companies to extend delivery times would be a great milestone in the effort to prevent drowsy drivers.
An obvious problem with semi-trucks is their sheer size. Being next to one on a roadway is like being on the road with a freight train. They are intimidating to anyone, especially young drivers. Anyone who has ever passed a semi knows the feeling of being “sucked in” closer by the pressure. Blind spots, or “no-zones”, also make semi trucks dangerous. A truck driver must deal with large blind spots around the vehicle that make it difficult or impossible to see surrounding cars. Many times if a person can’t see the driver’s mirrors, the driver cannot see them either. If the truck starts to wobble and goes into the lane of a motorist, often they panic and swerve to avoid the semi-truck. The swerving into lanes by trucks in known as “off-tracking” and is highly dangerous. The risk for rollover or jack-knifing is great due to the heavy weight of the freight and trucks combined.
According to the U.S. DOT longer combination vehicles, or LCVs can have a “total trailer length of up to 68 feet and a maximum weight of 105,500 pounds.” The U.S. DOT notes, rollovers account for 50% of fatalities, but only 13% of all accidents.
There needs to be a stopping point to how enormous semi-trucks are getting. It is going to have to come to a boiling point where either semi-trucks need to get smaller or traffic lanes need to get wider. If left up to the trucking companies they would have tractor-trailers a mile long. It is up to our legislature to provide for the public safety, and put lives in front of profits.
In a perfect world, passenger vehicles and semi-trucks would have separate roadways, but that is economically unfeasible. Everyone behind a wheel should be educated to the “do’s and don’ts” while sharing the road with these massive trucks. Driving tests should include questions on how to avoid trucking accidents. They should also include data about semi trucks blind spots, “pull” when passing, wide turns, and inability to break quick enough. Drivers of passenger vehicles can prevent certain situations that put both themselves and the driver of the semi-truck in danger.
There are many other causes to why semi-trucks are so dangerous. I ask of the corporations who push their drivers to work long hours to think of the consequences. I ask lawmakers to think of my story, and countless others, when contemplating on laws making roadways even more unsafe. My family was fortunate enough to have Salvi, Schostok and Pritchard on our side to defend us against the trucking company involved with the death of my mom and sister. So many questions go unanswered, and with so many things that could go wrong with an investigation, it is important to have experts on your side to support you.
I clearly remember the day my mom and sixteen-year old sister were killed in a collision with a semi-truck. I have gone over and over the whole scenario in my head, and still don’t understand what happened. There are many unanswered questions in a semi-truck collision. The scenario gets played over and over again in your head. The “what-if’s” seem to take over your thoughts. What if it had been a car they collided with or if the semi-truck had better brakes?
I hope to help prevent tragedies like this from happening to other people. There are solutions out there. Now, all we need is for people to implement them, and keep our eyes and ears open. It is time we focus on a solution because enough lives have been taken. My mom always said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”