More Fatalities To Drive Trucking Industry's Safety Agenda

by Jana Ritter - Published: 2/06/2013

While the exact cause of last weekend's tour bus crash that killed 8 people in California has yet to be determined, investigators are looking into the brakes as the most likely suspect. Investigators from the California Highway Patrol and the National Transportation Safety Board started collecting evidence from the offices of bus operator Scapadas Magicas LLC, interviewing owners and employees, and gathering documents on the vehicle's maintenance history.  Although they are investigation everything about the bus, road conditions, and possible driver error or fatigue that could have played a role in the crash, the roadworthiness of the 1996 bus loomed as a key issue after the driver told investigators the brakes failed as it descended from the popular Big Bear ski area, and federal records pointed to a history of brake maintenance problems. "We are going to look very closely at the brakes as we will every other mechanical system on the bus," NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.


Chris Medwell, an expert in heavy vehicle accident reconstruction at Bloomberg Consulting in Gulf Breeze, Fla., said investigators typically focus on several issues when examining air brakes following a crash, including wear to parts and an adjustment device that compensates for wear. Filters on air compressors that feed the system can clog, and hoses can leak, among other mechanical problems. But human error can also be at fault. As air brakes use pressurized air for stopping power, rather than the hydraulic fluid used in car brakes, heavy weight in a vehicle, combined with an inexperienced driver in rugged terrain, can have risks.

Today and Tuesday evening, two other deadly incidents occurred in Richland County SC, both indicating driver inexperience and error at fault. Just after 11 a.m. Wednesday on Highway 601 near the Richland/Calhoun County line, officers say a log truck was traveling south on 601 when it ran off the right side of the road and struck the end of a bridge. The driver attempted to overcorrect and crossed the median, colliding with a car and caused both vehicles to catch fire. The log truck driver died at the scene, while the passenger in the other vehicle was taken to the hospital for treatment.

Also in Richland County, a 55-year-old Irmo truck driver was killed when his tanker truck ran off Interstate 20 Tuesday evening. The propane truck was westbound on I-20 around the 83-mile marker when it struck the guardrail around 6:20 p.m., then ran off the right side of the highway, struck some trees and overturned, SC Highway Patrol said.

While this week's news items are the unfortunate reminders driving home the importance of safety, the ATA recently released a report indicating there has been substantive progress on more than half of 20 critical steps necessary to further reduce highway crashes. The report comes four years after ATA released its list of safety priorities and called on policymakers to do more to make trucks and their workplace, America's roadways, safer.