Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

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.”

As members of Congress worked through the weekend to agree on a spending bill to keep the federal government operating a fair of amount of media attention focused on an unrelated provision that would weaken the regulations imposed on banks in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Another, less noticed, amendment to the bill, however, is likely to have a more immediate effect on a much larger number of Americans.

According to NJ.com, language slipped into the federal spending bill at the last minute “suspends two rest rules for drivers” of semi-trucks. In other words, it makes it legal for trucking companies to demand more hours behind the wheel from already overstretched truck drivers.

Specifically, the website reports, “under federal law, truck drivers can be behind the wheel 11 hours a day, up to a maximum of 60 hours in a seven-day period. But if a trucker takes a 34-hour rest period, that seven-day calendar starts all over and he or she can drive another 60 hours during the next seven days.” The Hill, a magazine that tracks congress, notes that the new rule will “suspend a current requirement that truck drivers take breaks between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on consecutive nights before they can work again. The measure would also remove a limit on the number of times they can declare the start of a new workday.”

An experiment by a Connecticut television station designed to highlight the problem of distracted driving among truck drivers turned up a wealth of disturbing evidence.

NBC Connecticut.com set up cameras on three major interstate highways “over the course of several months looking for distracted drivers behind the wheels of big rigs… it didn’t take long for us to find several drivers of tractor-trailers who appeared to be either talking or texting while driving.” Like Oregon, Connecticut has a comprehensive distracted driving law that bans the use of cellphones without a hands-free device and bans texting by drivers in all circumstances.

The article goes on to quote a spokesman for Connecticut’s Motor Transport Association asserting that the trucking industry has always advocated “tougher laws and better training to stop distracted driving,” as NBC Connecticut puts it. The TV station’s findings, however, highlight the importance of enforcement mechanisms to prevent distractive driving. Specifically, other states need to do what Oregon did several years ago and close loopholes that allow truck drivers and others involved in serious accidents to avoid distracted driving responsibility by claiming that their phone calls were “work-related.”

The tragic death last year of two teenage girls in a semi-truck accident has spurred an online petition drive organized by their family, and an advocacy movement for tighter regulation of large trucks.

“Their lives were abruptly ended and we want to see that same thing does not happen to others,” the girls’ mother said, according to Washington DC TV station WJLA, as she delivered a petition with over 11,000 signatures on it to the Department of Transportation earlier this month. The North Carolina family was driving down an interstate highway a year ago when “their family vehicle was struck, propelling it under a tractor trailer and killing the two girls,” the TV station reports.

In response, the grieving parents organized an online petition drive seeking tighter regulation of the trucking industry (you can see, and sign, the petition here). Specifically, the couple is calling for “improved under-ride guards to prevent vehicles from sliding under trucks, and also wants to require electric monitoring devices to decrease the number of truckers driving while fatigued. They also want to increase the minimum liability insurance required for drivers,” according to WJLA. The girls’ father told reporters that installing the under-guards would cost only $20 per truck.

The Oregonian reports that a section of US-20 in Jefferson County was closed for several hours Monday in the wake of an Oregon car crash that left one person dead and several others injured. As of mid-morning one lane of the road had been reopened but police were warning motorists to expect long delays.

The fatal accident took place near Santiam Summit as the road passes through the Willamette National Forest between Corvallis and Bend. Relatively few details are available about the accident, which took place Monday morning around 9:30 am, though the newspaper does report that Life Flight helicopters were required to evacuate some of the injured. The exact type of vehicles involved in this Oregon crash have not been announced, but the location and the poor weather conditions that appear to have contributed to the accident are a reminder of the special care that trucks need to take in areas like the Willamette National Forest.

I have written frequently about the dangers that trucks face on in mountain areas. When even interstate highway travel is dangerous because of the weather and terrain it is especially important to proceed cautiously on narrow mountain roads. My past blogs on Oregon truck accidents have focused mainly on the northeast corner of our state – particularly the area around Cabbage Hill on Interstate 84. In the case of this accident, however, the newspaper’s note that “a spokesman for the ODOT said the highway has been hit with a lot of snow in the past few days” is an important reminder that the conditions on Cabbage Hill, while often extreme, are hardly unique in the more remote parts of Oregon.

The 2009 death of an Oregon-bound family on a California freeway led this week to an important wrongful death ruling by a court in our neighbor to the south. As reported by the Los Angeles Times a 13-year-old girl is now the only survivor of her family’s SUV accident. The family car hit the rear of an illegally parked truck near La Crescenta, California while on its way to Oregon for a Thanksgiving vacation.

According to the newspaper the truck’s driver was parked “in an area designated for emergencies only without his trailer lights or emergency reflectors on… (the driver’s) attorney argued at trial that his client had pulled over to the side of the road to take medication for a severe headache, which constituted an emergency.” The victim’s attorney, however, pointed out that the driver had given conflicting versions of the incident at different times, “including stopping to urinate and pulling over to sleep,” the Times reports.

When the family SUV burst into flames the teenage girl and her elder brother managed to reach safety but their parents and another brother were not able to get away from the burning car. The newspaper notes that the surviving brother “committed suicide in June, four days before his mother’s birthday,” a fact that highlights in the worst way imaginable the intense psychological trauma these two children have gone through.

An Oregon motorcycle crash that also involved a pickup truck left a Monmouth man dead over the weekend, according to a report in this morning’s Oregonian. The newspaper reports that the man “died Sunday morning in a collision between a pickup truck and a motorcycle on Oregon 51 north of Independence.”

The victim, age 22 according to the newspaper, “struck the right front side of the truck and crashed through (its) windshield” when the driver of the truck, a 77-year-old man, “attempted to turn his truck left into a driveway.” The paper also reports that witnesses say neither the motorcycle nor the truck appeared to be speeding at the time of the Oregon motorcycle accident. Although an investigation of the fatal crash is still underway, the newspaper cites police sources saying they believe alcohol was not involved in the Sunday morning accident. Both men were airlifted to Salem Memorial Hospital, according to The Oregonian, where the motorcycle rider was pronounced dead and the driver of the truck remains in critical condition.

Based on these details, what we appear to see here is a straightforward case of poor driving, the sort of accident that happens every day in every American city, and which is all the more tragic because it is so easily avoidable.

The Associated Press is reporting that two people died and 20 people have been injured in a multi-car and truck accident on Interstate-75 near Detroit. The fatal road accident involved “more than two dozen vehicles including tractor-trailers,” according to the news agency, and highlights the need for caution during this winter driving season.

Though this particular accident took place half a continent away from Oregon, the circumstances are some that we are all too familiar with here in the Pacific Northwest. Be it on the congested roads around Portland or the notoriously dangerous Cabbage Hill segment of Interstate-84 in the east of the state, Oregon semi-truck accidents are a serious problem on the roads of our state and region.

In 2010 alone, the last year for which Oregon Department of Transportation data is available, there were 649 Oregon truck crashes on our roads involving semi-trailers, resulting in nearly 250 injuries and 25 deaths. As these figures indicate, the operation of large trucks calls for special care and caution on the part of drivers. Of course, semi-truck operators are not alone in this responsibility. The accident figures cited here are only a fraction of the total number of Oregon truck crashes that take place every year.

Tragedy struck the Oregon bicycling community this week when a 28-year-old woman died after a Portland bicycle accident in which she was hit by a semi-truck. According to The Oregonian, the Portland truck accident took place last Wednesday evening as “the truck was making a right turn from Madison onto Third Avenue “ when it hit the cyclist, “who was traveling eastbound on Madison,” the newspaper reports.

The cyclist was transported to an area hospital following the accident, but died of her injuries the next day. The newspaper also reports that both police and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office are investigating the fatal Oregon bike accident.

Accidents like these are the saddest sort of reminder how important road safety is for cyclists and drivers alike. The circumstances of this accident are also telling. A vehicle, especially a large one, is arguably most dangerous to cyclists when it is making a right turn. Drivers are keenly aware of traffic around them when turning left, because this generally involves crossing a stream of oncoming traffic. Right turns, however, are all too easy to think of as essentially ‘safe.’

A recent frightening incident on I-205 led to a multi-vehicle Oregon auto crash involving a pick-up truck, a large commercial truck and a TriMet bus. A man from Monmouth was injured, several other vehicles damaged and the busy road was closed for several hours during morning rush hour, according to both The Oregonian and the Portland Tribune.

The chain of events leading to the crash began with a driver “passing on the right shoulder” who then abruptly “cut back into traffic,” according to The Oregonian. The driver of a pick-up swerved to avoid the reckless driver, went into a spin and crashed into a tractor-trailer. A TriMet bus traveling behind the pick-up also swerved in an effort to avoid the unfolding accident but wound up becoming part of it. Exactly what happened to the reckless driver who set all of this in motion is not mentioned in the media accounts – a fact which implies that the person ultimately responsible managed simply to drive away (particularly since both newspapers report that the police did not issue any citations at the scene of the multi-vehicle Oregon traffic crash).

That only one person was hurt in such a complex Oregon highway accident is a testament to the importance of seat belts. According to the Tribune “all drivers were using safety restraints.” That, at least, can be taken as a good sign. It was also surely fortunate that the bus was empty at the time of the accident. As I have noted in previous posts, TriMet has had a couple of difficult years leading to some significant questions about how – and how safely – it operates.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email: matthew@mdkaplanlaw.com
map image