ROCKFORD, Ill. — On January 11th, a FedEx truck in northern Illinois struck a disabled vehicle and killed the woman inside.
According to Illinois State Police, the truck driver crashed into the disabled vehicle around 1:20 a.m. on I-90 in Rockford, and the woman driving the disabled car was pronounced dead at the scene.
The woman had her 4-year-old child in the car–the child had non-life threatening injuries and was taken immediately to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Unfortunately, incidents of this kind aren’t rare. In March of last year, a state trooper and a passenger in a disabled car were hurt when a tractor trailer collided with both the patrol car and the disabled vehicle on the side of the road in Kingston, New York.
New York State Police said the trooper was was helping the driver to change a tire and that the trooper had been sitting in his vehicle when the tractor trailer hit his cruiser and then the driver’s side of the disabled vehicle before continuing to drive northbound on I-87.
The tractor trailer managed to push the SUV into the passenger of the disabled Tahoe, which caused the driver to be pushed into the guard rail. Both the driver and trooper were transported to the nearest hospital for non-life threatening injuries.
All U.S. states have a “Move Over” Law in place which requires all vehicles to safely move over into further-away lanes for all police, firefighters, first responders, tow-truck drivers, and other personnel as the work at accident scenes.
Because all commercial truck drivers are trained with these laws in mind and are taught how to drive without distraction, it seems avoidable accidents such as these should occur much less regularly. However, there are a multitude of reasons why they don’t.
The biggest one? Fatigue.
When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced its plans to relax safety rules for truck drivers–including implementing extended duty time and more flexible mandatory break time–many people were worried about what the longer hours could mean for distracted driving and driver fatigue among truckers.
Linda Wilburn, for instance, was waiting for her 19-year-old son Orbie to stop by her house just 10 miles from his new rental when he was fatally hit from behind by a big rig speeding down I-40 east from Weatherford, Oklahoma.
The 41-year-old Kentucky truck driver also died at the scene. According to Linda Wilburn, he had been driving at least 1,300 miles “without a rest break at all” from Bakersfield, California.
Because of this, the Wilburn family has been rallying against the new proposed flexibility, which would allow drivers to split up mandatory 10-hour rest breaks into 5-5 or 6-4 hour splits, with control over whether or not they actually rest. It would also extend driving time by two hours for truckers working in any inclement weather conditions and would lengthen the maximum on-duty period to 14 hours.
Still, the National Transportation Safety Board says it is working hard to focus on fatigued driving issues, and has named the reduction of fatigue-related accidents on its ‘Most Wanted List’ of 2019-2020 safety improvements.
“Drowsy driving does not leave telltale signs,” the list says. “It is widely believed to be underreported on police crash forms.”
Harry Adler, the Truck Safety Coalition’s executive director, knows this is a major road safety problem.
“These (proposals) are opportunities for drivers to be pushed to their limits further, to drive without resting,” he explained, “It’s more opportunity for a driver to operate while fatigued, which is really detrimental.”
Because fatigue while driving can lead to slower responses and distracted actions, some in-cab driver monitoring systems are working to deter it. Bison Transport has been testing in-cab monitors through Seeing Machines Limited technology, meaning it will install its automated monitoring systems into one of Canada’s largest fleets.
During a testing period, the company found a reduction of 67% in fatigued driving incidents, of 40% in distracted driving incidents, and of 97% in cell phone use. The driver monitor can assess a driver’s visual attention, drowsiness, and probability for risk with its vision algorithms by tracking eye movement and notifying drivers with audio and vibration alerts.
Although methods like these may be helpful, it appears the biggest boost we could give truck driver safety would be to ensure truckers are regularly getting enough rest and are able to stay alert throughout their entire journeys. When that is the priority, it is safe to assume all drivers on any road will be much safer.