Commercial Truck Drivers, Fatigue, and the 2014 Naperville Illinois Truck Crash

Commercial Truck Drivers, Fatigue, and the 2014 Naperville Illinois Truck Crash

How Dangerous Is It to Share a Roadway with a Big Rig Semi Truck in Indiana or Illinois?

Earlier this week, the National Transportation Safety Board released its annual “Most Wanted List” targeting what the transportation agency considers to be the ten biggest dangers facing those driving on American roadways today.

First on the list? Driver fatigue.

According to the NTSB:

Human fatigue affects the safety of the traveling public in all modes of transportation. Twenty percent of the 182 major NTSB investigations completed between 2001 and 2012 identified fatigue as a probable cause, contributing factor, or a finding. Combating fatigue requires a comprehensive approach focused on research, education and training, technologies, treatment of sleep disorders, hours-of-service regulations, and on- and off-duty scheduling policies and practices.

NTSB Finds Driver Fatigue Caused Naperville Truck Crash Tragedy

Which brings us to the meeting held by that same agency regarding the massive semi truck crash that happened in Naperville, Illinois, on January 27, 2014. This was the tragedy that happened on Interstate 88 a little over two years ago, but which most of us in this part of the country still remember well, two years later.

Read the February 2016 NTSB Findings and Review Their Graphics and Accident Scene Photos Here.

The story:  it happened at night. A tractor-trailer truck broke down on I-88 (Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway). An Illinois Tollway worker named Vince Petrella drove over to help the stalled truck driver get that rig moving again. So did Illinois State Trooper Doug Balder, driving his patrol car up behind the tractor-trailer truck as it sat there, unmoving, in the Interstate’s right lane.

No luck; the truck engine wasn’t going to work and this machine wasn’t going to move itself. Someone called a tow truck. Both the Tollway Truck and the State Trooper’s patrol car had their flashers lighting up the night.

That was at 7:45 pm. The truck was still stranded there almost two hours later, at 9:20 pm. By now, the tow truck had arrived on the scene, its flashing lights adding to the display.

Then the crash happened.

Right then, a huge Freightliner with its flatbed trailer, fully loaded with 42,000 pounds of coiled steel, was coming up fast on I-88, down the way from the stalled big rig. The Freightliner didn’t stop. It rear-ended the vehicles there in the right lane, slamming the vehicles one into the other, like dominoes.

The force of that crash had such an impact that Mr. Petrella’s Tollway Truck rear-ended the car in front of it, and that car then slammed into the big rig’s tow truck. The domino effect of vehicle slamming into vehicle caused damage enough, but the accident didn’t end there. A fire broke out. The Illinois State Trooper’s patrol car was consumed in the flames, along with the Freightliner’s flatbed trailer.

Trooper Doug Balder was severely burned in the accident. Tollway worker Vince Petrella died in the accident. It was later determined that one of the 14,000 pound rolls of coiled steel had been thrown from the Freightliner into his truck.

Last year, the Freightliner’s truck driver, Renato Velasquez, was convicted of operating a motor vehicle in a fatigued state, failing to comply with HOS regulations, speeding, and failing to yield to emergency vehicles. He got three years. Evidence from his criminal trial revealed that the truck driver had been driving for around 20 of the past 26 hours before the crash. The trucker apologized over and over again at his sentencing hearing. His defense lawyer argued to the court that while he had exceeded the HOS regulations, he was just “trying to earn a living.”

According to the NTSB, both of the carriers involved in this accident “had long histories of noncompliance.” And even though the “FMCSA was aware of noncompliance through CSMS data and CR results,” … “both carriers continued to operate up to this fatal crash.”

Moreover, the NTSB found that “FMCSA unable to effectively intervene before or after this crash.” The Board then offered several recommendations to try and prevent these kinds of serious and deadly truck crashes from happening in the future.

In his closing statement on Tuesday, NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart stated the following:

The FMCSA’s ability to identify high-risk carriers means little unless it can act promptly and effectively to force those carriers to either make changes to improve safety, or pursue another line of business.

From the point of view of the traveling public, today’s recommendations, if acted upon, would reduce the risk of deadly truck-involved crashes. Truck drivers would more likely be well-rested, and their vehicles would more likely be mechanically sound, among other positive safety outcomes.

From the point of view of responsible commercial operators and drivers, these measures would help to level the playing field. Compliant carriers should not be forced to compete with marginal carriers that ignore necessary safety precautions and thereby reap an unfair advantage.

Today’s uneven playing field is also an unsafe playing field. Action on today’s recommendations could help to level the playing field and result in safer roads for everyone.

Profits for Trucking Industry Pushing Truck Drivers: Are Federal Regulations Enough?

When the NTSB references an “uneven playing field,” that’s pointing to money. Profits. The need to grab as much revenue as possible from the movement of goods and cargo from one part of the country to another.

The faster the stuff gets there, and the more that can be moved, the better for the trucking companies and their clientele. Which puts lots and lots of pressure on these commercial truck drivers to drive long hours and cover lots of miles.

Remember, truckers are paid by the mile driven, not the hour worked.

1. Truck Driver Errors

In a recent interview by InquirerMotoring, Salvador Buddy Silva III, CEO of SafeSat GPS Tracking and Asset Management System Corp., provided his take on some of the problems that are causing all these big rig truck crashes. Read the interview here.

Among them:

  • Speeding because the big rig trucker thinks going over the speed limit isn’t going to be a problem for him (or her), as a professional.
  • Driving without stopping regardless of official federal regulations (HOS rules), or studies that show a commercial truck driver physically and mentally needs a rest break every three to four hours.

2. Truck Driver Lifestyle

In this month’s Cosmopolitan, Arielle Pardes interviewed Lindsay Slazakowski, who worked as a female trucker for three years. You can read the article online, “13 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Long-Haul Truck Driver.

It’s a different way of life for the long-haul big rig truck driver:

  • Truckers are always on the road: they live in those rigs. They can be on the interstates, crossing the country with cargo, for weeks and weeks at a time. Those rigs are their homes. You eat there, you sleep there: Ms. Slazakowski made meals in a crock pot there in her rig.
  • Truck drivers are paid by the mile. When Ms. Slazakowski began, she made 27 cents per mile driven. Think about how many miles she had to drive to make $35,000 that first year.
  • While some truckers drive as a team, one driving and one sleeping, lots of truck drivers do the job alone. They’re all by themselves, driving that rig, day after day and week after week.
  • These drivers stop for bathroom breaks when they can’t wait any longer, and shower every so often. Some truck drivers, Slazakowski reports, wear diapers so they can get even more miles driven and earn more of those pennies per mile.
  • Truckers know the job is dangerous. Because it is.

Truck Drivers Deserve Better and So Does the American Public Who Shares the Roads With Them

In our previous post, we discussed how the State of California had passed a state law to try and force truckers in their state to take regular rest breaks and meal breaks. A federal court fight ensued and the trucking industry lost.

So now we have a bill moving through Congress to try and block states like California from taking trucker safety into their own control — even though we have the NTSB confirming that the FMCSA has not been effective in fighting truck crash dangers in this country. Particularly those involving trucker fatigue.

Trucking is important to our economy and our way of life. However, the truck driver needs help here — to make his or her job safer, as well as making the roads of Indiana and Illinois and the rest of the country less vulnerable to big rig semi truck crashes where people die in the accidents. Be careful out there!

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