Why Is US Government Failing to Act as Fatal Truck Crashes Surge?

Fatal truck crashes cause thousands of drivers and passenger of much smaller vehicles to become innocent victims. Our government’s inaction as the number of truck crashes surge is maddening.

Tragic truck crashes are becoming the the new norm instead of rare events. Just last year here in Dallas and Tarrant Counties, we had these terrible statistics: almost 6,000 collisions involving tractor-trailers tragically took the lives of 53 people and injured over 3,500 others.

Crashes between tractor-trailers and passenger vehicles often have devastating impacts on motorists. An 18-wheeler easily has a weight of 80,000 pounds in comparison to about 4,000 pounds for a normal car. Here are some recent examples of the effects that truck crashes can have:

— Jeff Kolkman was a 38-year-old father of four and, what his peers considered a “very safe driver.” Kolkman made safety a top priority – until the day that everything went wrong. While he was driving a 2016 Volvo semi down the interstate at 70 mph, he took the time to look down at the black tablet in his right hand. A dash-cam recording in the truck captured Kolkman’s actions until he slammed into the rear of a 2014 Toyota Camry, waiting in traffic outside of West Terre Haute, Indiana. Witnesses say that Kolkman never braked and only slowed down slightly. The dash-cam went black as the truck slammed into the Camry, bringing four lives to a fiery end.

—Former Kansas City TV station executive, Pam Biddle knows the heartache fatal truck crashes cause. Pam, her 23-year-old-son, Aaron Lee, and her ex-husband, Brian Lee, along with Brian Lee’s girlfriend, Stephani Swaim, were passengers in the Camry struck by Jeff Kolkman’s truck. When the crash occurred, the Camry was shoved under a 53-foot flatbed trailer loaded with steel bars. Pam was the only survivor of the crash. The others died instantly. The crash was so hot, the victims could only be identified from the ID in their wallets. It took nearly an hour to scrape the melted soles of Pam’s son’s shoes from the floorboard.

— Demi Arvanitakis was in the rear of a line of traffic, on her way to get a better view of the total solar eclipse. She, and three of her friends, all 19-year-old sophomores at Creighton University, were in her Prius, on their way to Lincoln. The brain injury Arvanitakis received erased her memory from when the semi roared up behind her, crashing into her car. Her friend in the back, Joan Ocampo-Yambing, was a casualty of the crash. Not only does Arvanitakis have to live with her own injuries and the loss of her friend; but also the fear of realizing the passenger sitting just behind her didn’t survive the crash.

— A Toyota Sequoia packed full with eleven people began having engine problems while traveling along I-70. The vehicle had slowed to about 40 mph when a semi traveling 75 mph struck the car from behind. Six of the eleven inside were killed. Although the National Transportation Safety Board said the accident might have been prevented if the trucking company installed the optional collision avoidance system, the organization also blamed the driver of the Toyota for traveling without his hazard lights and having an overloaded vehicle.

—It happened in January of 2012 but the crash still serves as a wake-up call for anyone who believes fatal truck crashes only happen to other people. The story appeared on a recent episode of Dateline. Kelli Groves and her two daughters, Sage, aged 10 years and Mylo, aged 10 months were involved in the crash. A computer demonstration showed how the BMW car the Groves were in was overtaken by a semi as they crossed a bridge in Buellton, California. The semi crumpled the car, dragged it up onto the side of the bridge, and then went over the side, crashing into a fiery mass below. Kelli and her girls were trapped in the crumpled mess. Kelly was in the front of the vehicle, where she was unable to see whether her children were dead or alive.

Rescuers spent about two hours trying to get the Groves out of the wrecked car. The position over the bridge with the burning truck below made rescue attempts even more dangerous. All three victims escaped the ordeal. Kelli had a broken pelvis, Mylo only a scrape on her head. Sage had to undergo three surgeries in the hospital followed by therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. Her body was cut by glass, requiring more than 100 stitches. Sage also had to spend six weeks in a wheelchair and returned to the hospital for another surgery in 2013 to remove fragments of glass from her ankle.

The truck driver who struck the BMW was 48-year-old Charles Allison. He was killed on impact when the truck crashed below the bridge. It was later discovered that Allison was under the influence of both amphetamines and methamphetamine at the time of the crash. The Groves filed a lawsuit against the trucking company that Allison worked for and his estate. Kelli, Sage, and Mylo received a million dollar settlement in 2014 to be divided among the three according to court records. While drug use is one reason truck drivers crash, it isn’t the primary cause.

Most Common Causes of Fatal Truck Crashes

Big trucks are a necessary evil, transporting all kinds of goods across our country. In spite of recent legislation designed to address common contributing factors, the percentage of fatal truck crashes isn’t going in the right direction. Before anyone can find a solution, they first have to look at what causes these accidents in the first place.

Leading causes of fatal truck crashes are:

  1. Speeding

Speeding is a serious issue with big trucks due to their size and weight. The faster they are going when they crash into another vehicle, the greater the impact. It also takes trucks longer to stop because of their heavy weight. Drivers are much more likely to lose control of their truck when they travel at high speeds.

  1. Distracted Driving

When Jeff Kolkman took his eyes off the road to look at his tablet, he was guilty of distracted driving. Most often, we think of distracted driving as texting or talking on a cell phone. But anything that takes your attention off the road, even for a couple of seconds, is enough to cause a fatal crash.

  1. Impaired Driving

Impaired driving means being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Commercial truck drivers are held to a higher standard than other drivers when it comes to impaired driving. The accident caused by Charles Allison Jr is one example of how impaired driving puts the truck drivers and the public at risk. Both illicit drugs and prescriptions that affect the person’s ability to drive are prohibited. Some truck companies randomly screen drivers for amphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, and other dangerous drugs. Tests for alcohol are often limited to drivers what have been involved in an accident. Truck companies who hire drivers with previous DUI arrests or who don’t use regular screening methods for their drivers may be liable when their employee causes a crash.

  1. Fatigue

Today’s Hours-of-Service rules have made it less likely that truck drivers will be behind the wheel when too fatigued to stay awake. Trucking companies are no longer permitted to give them hectic routes that don’t allow time for breaks or sleep. Trucking companies that ignore the rules or keep inaccurate log books prevent the rules from eliminating the problem of fatigued drivers altogether. However, this is no longer the leading cause of fatal truck crashes.

  1. Overloaded Trucks

Semi-trucks are held to weight limitations, limiting the amount of freight they can carry. Trucking companies that exceed those limits put the truck at a greater risk of causing a crash. Too much weight throws the truck out of balance and reduces the control the driver has over it.

What Is the Solution to Reduce Truck Crashes?

It might seem impossible to come up with a solution that could have a serious impact on the number of fatalities caused by truck crashes. But there is technology available that would do just that.

So What’s the Hold-Up?

That’s the question that a lot of people and organizations are asking. Not only is the technology available; it has been around for some time. The reason that it hasn’t been implemented comes down to Congress and federal regulatory agencies including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

All they have to do is make new technology mandatory that would prevent rear-end collisions. The NHTSA won’t push it through and they won’t say why.

On ten or more occasions, the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that the NHTSA require forward crash avoidance and mitigation systems (automatic emergency braking) on all heavy trucks. After two decades, the NHTSA has still failed to act. If they had responded when the technology was first available, many of the crashes never would have happened.

Some trucking companies have taken the leap and shelled out the additional cost of installing the optional equipment on their trucks. Others are more concerned about adding an additional cost of about $2,000 to the already high $150,000 price tag for new trucks. Democrats in Congress believe the surge in fatal truck accidents proves that now is the time to pick up the pace. But as long as Republicans object and retain majority control, adoption of a mandate isn’t likely.

One representative of the NHTSA stated that they were currently studying the next-generation of automatic emergency braking technology. They expect the research to conclude in 18 to 24 months. At that time, they can use the information to decide on what steps to take next. But experts know that the technology is already available, and this is just a stalling technique. It’s the same technology used in passenger vehicles today. Also, it will be standard on all new passenger vehicles in the US by 2022.

Some experts suggest that mandating the collision avoidance systems would prevent more than 7 of 10 rear-end truck collisions. In addition, it would lessen the severity of injuries in those crashes that still occurred. Right now, the only things stopping the technology from saving lives are the legislation to make it mandatory and the lack of action by Congress and the NHTSA.

Some trucking companies don’t want to pay a couple of thousand extra dollars for their trucks. Without a law that makes it mandatory, they aren’t willing to invest any more than they have to. Considering the liability they incur when one of their trucks does cause an accident, the investment, in reality, is one they almost can’t afford to neglect. In comparison to the $1 million settlement received by Kelli Groves and her two daughters, some cases have resulted in much higher payouts. Although the truck driver was the only person killed in the crash, the Groves underwent extensive medical treatment and trauma from the event.

In most cases, the trucking companies who own the trucks that cause fatal truck crashes are held partially or totally at-fault. Even when the truck driver causes the crash through distracted driving, drug use, or driver error, it is their employer’s responsibility to hire and train qualified drivers. Trucking companies are also expected to perform routine drug tests, inspect their vehicles, and perform maintenance as needed. When they are liable for lost lives and property, the price tag is going to far exceed a couple of thousand dollars.

If you have been injured or have lost a loved one in a fatal truck crash, contact Berenson Injury Law. Bill Berenson has recovered millions of dollars for his clients and has thousands of happy clients. He is an experienced car and truck crash attorney who represents accident victims in Texas. Whether your case ends in a settlement or goes to trial, you can count on him to get the best outcome from your case. He will work tenaciously to pursue the maximum amount of compensation you need from all available sources.

For more articles on this topic:

Who Pays Your Damages After 18-Wheeler Crash?


Dallas-Fort Worth Garbage Truck Accidents


18-Wheeler Drivers Taking Dangerous Opioid Drugs? DOT To Finally Test


Four Defense Tactics Trucking Companies Use to Avoid Liability


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