The Fatal Cost of Transportation

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.”

DISTRACTED DRIVER AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS: DO THEY WORK?

By Eric Vernsten

“On June 13, 2007,  I lost my father, John Slighting. He loved parties and he loved having his  friends around. He was a firefighter, he served in the Army. He was a friend;  he was a great, great man. He was an avid, avid motorcyclist, and the night he  was killed he was in a helmet and his safety chaps. He has been riding as long  as I can remember. My dad was coming home from work, and the girl rolled  through a stop sign while she was talking to her mother on the phone. My dad  hit the side of her car, and flew over and landed on the asphalt. I don’t know  how she didn’t see him, but we found out later she was on her cell phone and  she was distracted. My sisters each have children; I have a son, who will never  know their grandfather, and he was such an incredible person. My younger sister  was pregnant with twins; he never got to see them. My fondest memory of my  father is being a little girl and him taking me out to Lake Michigan to go  fishing. My dad won’t be able to teach my son that.”

-   Charlene Slighting, daughter of John Slighting.

Stories like that  of John Slighting have been occurring with disturbing frequency across the  United States of America over the past decade. John Slighting was a victim of  distracted driving (for more information on distracted driving, please visit www.salvilaw.com). Distracted driving has become an  epidemic in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety  Administration (NHTSA), over 16,000 people were killed in crashes involving a  distracted driver from 2008 to 2012. In 2011 alone, there were 387,000  accidents caused by distracted driving. Distracted driving has been defined by  the U.S. government’s distracted driving awareness website, distraction.gov,  as, “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary  task of driving.” Distracted driving includes such activities as: texting,  using a cell phone or smart phone, eating and drinking, talking to passengers,  grooming, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, watching a  video, adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player.” Over the past decade, the  U.S. federal government and states have made a concerted effort to end this  epidemic. Have these programs made a difference in combating distracted  driving?

AWARENESS AND  ENFORCEMENT

The United States  Government has taken very proactive steps to increase awareness of distracted  driving, starting with their website, distraction.gov. The website contains  statistics about distracted driving, stories of those who have been affected by  this tragedy (such as that of John Slighting), and many different ways for  individuals and groups to get involved with solving this grave issue. The  website includes an interactive map where individuals can see what specific  laws their state has enacted to combat distracted driving, as well as a section  on the various regulations passed with the recommendation of the U.S.  Department of Transportation.

The federal  regulations cover federal employees, and, according to distraction.gov, are a  multi-modal effort that includes automobiles, trains, planes, and commercial  vehicles. In 2009, President Obama signed an executive order directing federal  employees to not send text messages while driving government vehicles, when  using electronic equipment supplied by the government while driving, or while  driving privately owned vehicles when conducting government business. In  addition, commercial truck and bus drivers, drivers of hazardous materials,  rail employees, and pilots have had bans or restrictions on cell phone usage  applied to them.

States have been  proactive in attempting to solve the distracted driving problem as well.  According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), as of March 27, 2013,:  ten states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin  Islands all prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving.  Although no state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, 34 states and the  District of Columbia ban all cell phone use by novice drivers.  School bus  drivers in 19 states and the District of Columbia may not use a cell phone when  passengers are present. In addition, text messaging is banned for all drivers  in 39 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin  Islands. Many localities have passed their own distracted driving laws, such as  not being allowed to use a cell phone in a school zone.

States have made  great strides to combat distracted driving through other avenues as well.  According to the GHSA report, distracted driving has emerged as a priority for  State Highway Safety Offices, with 27 states plus the District of Columbia and  Guam having distracted driving in their strategic highway safety plans, and an  additional seven states indicating that they’ve held summits or had special  task forces on distracted driving. From 2003 to 2010, the number of states  collecting information about distraction as a factor in crashes more than  doubled, from 17 to 43; 23 states have created special materials on  distractions for teenage drivers, and 37 states and the District of Columbia  indicated they have public information/education campaigns on distracted  driving. In addition, 15 states and the District of Columbia reported using social  media networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to promote anti-distracted  driving messages. Finally, 35 states indicated they have worked with other  state agencies and private employers to address distracted driving.

THE STATISTICS

According to the  NHTSA, between 2008 and 2012, there were 1,766,000 injuries from car crashes  involving distracted drivers. The total number of deaths from distracted  driving-related crashes totaled 17,942. The statistics show that there have  been significant decreases both in the number of injuries and the number of  deaths from distracted driving. In 2008, there were 515,000 injuries from  distracted driving, whereas in 2011 there were 387,000. The number of deaths  dropped from 5,870 in 2008 to 3,331 in 2011. Overall, the number of injuries  have decreased dramatically each year, whereas the number of deaths had a sharp  drop from 2009 to 2010 (5,474 to 3,267), but then increased from 2010 to 2011  (3,267 to 3,331).

CONCLUSIONS

Based on the  numbers alone, it appears that distracted driving campaigns have been effective  in reducing the overall number amount of accidents, injuries, and lives.   A great comparison can be made between distracted driving and drunken driving  statistics, especially since distracted driving is just as dangerous as  drinking and driving. An analysis of drunken driving fatalities over a 20 year  span, during which legislation, enforcement and drunken driving awareness all  increased, shows that the distracted driving numbers maybe following a similar  positive trend to the decrease in drinking and driving.

According to  centurycouncil.org, from 1991 to 2010, drunken driving fatalities in the United  States decreased 35%, from 15,827 in 1991 to 10,228 in 2010. During this span,  the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) had their 11th anniversary (in  1991), and drunk driving became a more prominent public issue. Looking at the  20 years, there were four instances where the number of deaths increased from  the previous year (1994 to 95; 1998 to 99; 1999 to 2000; and 2001 to 02). There  were also two drastic downturns in loss of life: a 1,778 decrease from 1991 to  92, and a 694 drop in deaths from 1996 to 1997. These statistics seem similar  to those of distracted driving, where there was a drastic drop in deaths  between 2009 and 2010, and a small increase from 2010 to 2011. More than just a  drop in the number of deaths, drinking and driving has decreased because of  better legislation, better judicial enforcement, and better cultural awareness  to the problem.

Transportation  Secretary Ray LaHood summed this up very well, saying in 2010, “decades of  experience with drunk driving have taught us it takes a consistent combination  of education, effective enforcement, a committed judiciary, and collective  efforts by local, state, and national advocates to put a dent in the problem.”

Overall, it  appears that distracted driver campaigns have reduced the amount of accidents,  injuries, and fatalities from distracted driving. Distracted driving appears to  be following a similar statistical and cultural awareness path to that of  drinking and driving. However, as Ray LaHood said, it is going to take a  concerted effort through multiple fronts to make a truly significant dent in  distracted driving, and just like with drunken driving, this will take time.  However, the future already appears brighter and distracted driver campaigns  seem to be saving more lives each and every day.