Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

The Pendleton-based East Oregonian began the New Year with an article that offered a useful reminder both of the danger large trucks pose on Oregon and Washington’s roads – especially in rural areas – and of what the government is trying to do to mitigate the problem.

The Salem-datelined piece focused on truck inspections, which it describes as “the primary tool for preventing accidents that disrupt Oregon’s highways, hospitalize thousands and leave hundreds dead each year.” Perhaps surprisingly for some readers, the newspaper draws a connection between truck safety and the Vision Zero program that has become familiar in Portland and numerous other cities around the country.

In the popular mind Vision Zero is usually associated with pedestrian safety. Obviously large trucks are a part of that, but the broader goal of the program has always been to eliminate traffic deaths completely. A point the East Oregonian makes convincingly is that doing this includes taking a close look at big rigs in rural parts of the state, not just at cars and buses in cities.

Families of the people killed and injured in a terrible accident almost exactly a year ago may soon take a first step toward justice with the announcement of an arrest in the case. According to television station KABC “the driver of a big-rig who allegedly caused a passenger bus crash that killed 13 people in 2016 near Palm Springs has been arrested in Georgia.”

As coverage of the accident in USA Today details, the driver “stopped for traffic in the far-right lane of Interstate 10 on October 23, 2016, and dozed off, authorities say. While (he) was sleeping, traffic began moving again, but his vehicle continued to block the westbound lane.” A tour bus hit the stopped semi-truck at a speed of 76 miles per hour the paper reports, citing court filings. The driver now faces “13 counts of felony manslaughter with gross negligence… 11 counts of felony reckless driving with injury and 18 counts of misdemeanor reckless driving with injury.”

Chillingly, USA Today adds: “Charging documents indicate he (the truck driver) has continued to work as a bus driver since the crash.” The paper also notes that the driver “violated federal regulations for truck drivers and falsified his driver’s log.” He had reportedly only had seven hours of “sleep opportunity” during the 24 hours preceding the crash, and “it is unlikely that he actually slept during those opportunities.”

A recent article in the Bend Bulletin highlighted an unusually deadly period on Central Oregon’s roads. Over the course of ten days at the end of last month “Central Oregon highways were as deadly as they have ever been,” the newspaper writes. In that short span of time seven separate crashes led to 10 deaths in the area around Bend – half of them on US Route 97 alone. To put those numbers in context, over the five-year period between 2010 and 2015 US 97 saw a total of 15 crashes and 17 deaths.

Citing Oregon Department of Transportation officials and figures the paper notes that over the last five years more than 90 percent of the crashes on this road have been driver-related, as opposed to being caused by weather or a mechanical issue. “The most common causes of crashes include following too closely, driving too fast for the road conditions and not yielding to a right-of-way,” the newspaper notes.

A consistent theme in the Bulletin’s reporting is local residents insistence that the area’s roads need more medians to separate fast-moving traffic and other measures to get drivers to slow down on roads that are often both narrow and frequented by large trucks. One of last month’s crashes involved a fatal head-on collision between a passenger car and a commercial semi-truck. The fact that icy road conditions may have been the main cause of that particular accident only reinforces the importance of medians and other safety barriers – which might have prevented it – and of safer habits on the part of commercial drivers and their employers.

An illegal pass attempted by the driver of a semi-truck near Burns last week left the driver of an oncoming car dead and her passenger hospitalized in critical condition, according to The Oregonian.

The newspaper writes that the Oregon truck crash took place on US-20, near milepost 156. First responders arriving on the scene found the semi-truck “tangled with a Ford Focus to the side of the road.” Citing law enforcement sources, the paper reports that the truck “was towing a flatbed trailer westbound on the highway when (the driver) attempted to pass a slower motorhome in a no-passing area with double yellow lines.” The driver of the Focus, which was traveling in the eastbound lane “attempted to avoid the collision by swerving into a ditch, but (the truck) attempted the same maneuver… they crashed near the edge of the highway.”

The driver of the car died at the scene of the head-on semi-truck crash. Her passenger was flown to a Portland hospital with life-threatening injuries. The truck driver “was taken to the Harney County Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries,” the newspaper reports.

Two separate Oregon truck crashes involving three semi-trucks on the same stretch of eastbound Interstate-84 last week left one driver dead, the other two seriously injured and forced state officials to clean up a hazardous waste spill. In the process, these Baker County truck crashes highlighted the continuing danger large vehicles pose on our roads and highways.

According to The Oregonian the two semi-truck accidents took place about half an hour apart on Tuesday morning of last week. The first crash involved a rollover that resulted in the driver, a Gresham man, being taken by helicopter to a hospital in Idaho, according to the newspaper. The Oregonian reports that the 34-year-old driver “was traveling east on Interstate 84 at milepost 349 when he veered off the interstate and into the median. He drove back onto the interstate where the semi overturned and blocked both eastbound lanes.” The paper quotes state troopers saying they do not know what caused the first truck to leave the road.

The second accident occurred as traffic backed up behind the first. A truck “transporting Aluminum Oxide Powder UN3175, a hazardous material, rear-ended a truck that was already stopped in traffic behind the first accident. The containers leaked and a clean-up operation was undertaken,” according to The Oregonian. The newspaper added that between the accidents and the hazardous material spill, the effected section of the Interstate was closed for about nine hours.

As the Bend Bulletin notes in a recent article, two recent crashes near the Central Oregon city are drawing attention to safety issues on US-97. The newspaper notes that just on Tuesday of last week two Oregon car crashes took place on the same stretch of the road highlighting an area that “has long been considered perilous for its intersections and lack of median barriers.”

The paper reports that an elderly man visiting from the Midwest was involved in a head-on crash Tuesday morning when he “tried to turn north from a private driveway on the southbound side” of the road. No one suffered life-threatening injuries in that particular Oregon car crash, but later in the day a six-year-old girl was critically hurt and seven other people suffered less serious injuries “when a Redmond woman traveling southbound crossed into the northbound lanes” in the same area of Highway 97.

Both of these accidents involved cars, but the heavy presence of semi-trucks along this stretch of road is a reminder that even more serious accidents can and do take place when larger vehicles are involved.

An article published yesterday in the Washington Post reported that since early last year the federal government has been “investigating a potentially high rate of trailer separations.” The research focuses specifically on a particular type of trailer hitch used on semi-trailer trucks, known as the “Ultra LT.” According to the paper the Ultra LT is manufactured by Alabama-based Fontaine Fifth Wheel.

“The Ultra LT could be in use on as many as 6,000 semis across the nation,” the Post reports. According to the newspaper the company is cooperating with the government investigation.

This potentially unsafe product, and the Oregon truck accidents it may lead to, is a cause for special worry because it has been nearly 18 months since the Ohio accident that set the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s investigation in motion.

Last December I highlighted a stealthy move by the trucking industry to have its friends in Congress slip provisions into a stop-gap funding bill that were good for the industry but bad for Oregonians and the rest of America. Not content with that victory of profits over public safety the industry is now at it again, according to The New York Times.

An editorial published in the newspaper this week warned that “Republican lawmakers have attached a long industry wish list to an appropriations bill that will be voted on in the House in the coming weeks.” Last December’s measure suspended rules governing how much rest the drivers of large trucks need to get each week. The new measure, if it becomes law, will make it very difficult for President Obama or his successor to lift those ‘temporary’ rule suspensions.

Meanwhile, other parts of the bill “would allow trucks to carry longer trailers across the country, make it harder for the Department of Transportation to require drivers get more rest before they hit the road and forbid the department from raising the minimum insurance it requires trucks and buses to carry. The insurance levels have been in effect since 1985,” according to the paper.

Last week Portland suffered yet another tragic and preventable crosswalk death. The fact that this fatal Oregon traffic accident also involved a truck making a turn merely highlights the ongoing issue of pedestrian safety that I have written about so frequently.

According to The Oregonian a 61-year-old man from Northeast Portland “was using his three-wheeled wheelchair scooter in a marked crosswalk when a turning truck struck him.” It quotes a Portland police spokesman confirming that as the victim “crossed with the ‘walk’ signal, an eastbound truck turned south onto Naito Parkway and struck him.” The newspaper reports that the man died the following day at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. The truck driver is reported to be cooperating with police.

There are a number of potential legal issues raised by this Oregon traffic accident. As is often the case in a death under these circumstances the possibility of a wrongful death action exists. It is worth considering whether there is a product liability issue involved in this incident. Considering the sheer number of automotive product recalls over the last year it is worth exploring whether the truck involved in this fatal Oregon traffic accident may have been – or ought to be – subject to a recall.

I want to take some time today to bring to readers’ attention an organization with an important message for Oregonians: The Coalition Against Bigger Trucks, or CABT. The CABT has won my support, because of the nuanced and thoughtful approach it takes to a problem that is especially significant in states like Oregon, where semi-truck accidents are a regular presence on our roads – especially in the rural east of our state. These trucks pose persistent problems, and have well-known safety issues. Yet left to their own devices truck owners and shippers are pressing for more and bigger trucks to be allowed on our roads, even on the small rural roads where they pose the greatest danger to other drivers.

As the organization’s website notes: “Semitrailer trucks play a vital role in the US economy and transportation system, but longer, heavier trucks endanger motorists, weaken our roads and bridges, and cost taxpayers billions of dollars every year in highway subsidies.” Simply put, CABT is not against trucks, but it is against allowing trucking companies to put ever-bigger, ever-more dangerous vehicles on our highways. It supports reasonable, common-sense regulations, something which regular readers will know I have always advocated in all of the areas covered by my practice.

The facts behind this campaign are compelling. According to CABT, federal government figures show that double and triple trailer trucks “could be expected to experience an 11-percent higher overall fatal crash rater than single-trailer combinations.” The organization notes that this figure is also backed up by private research. The group reports that larger trucks stand a significantly greater chance of tipping over because “heavier trucks tend to have a higher center of gravity because the additional weight is typically stacked vertically.”

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