Opinion: Driver Choice and Rear-Impact Crashes
By James Scapellato
Scapellato & Co.
This Opinion piece appears in the April 2 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
Why do cars run into tractor-trailers stopped on the shoulders of roads? How could anyone miss seeing a tractor-trailer? It happens all too frequently.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates that about 450 fatalities and 5,000 injuries occur annually to the occupants of cars involved in rear-impact crashes — and 55% of these unexplained crashes occur during daylight or dawn hours.
Since 1937, the U.S. Department of Transportation has required truckers stopped on the roadway or shoulder to warn motorists. The purpose of the rule is to reduce the frequency and severity of rear-impact crashes by improving motorists’ detection and response to “emergency” stopped vehicles.
Below are three hypothetical rear-impact crashes that underscore the significance of this problem. Which driver do you think caused the crash? You’ll find the answers at the end of this column.
• Crash No. 1: A car driver ran into the back of a tractor-trailer parked on the exit ramp of an interstate highway. The trucker had stopped for a nap without turning on his four-way flashers or putting out warning triangles.
• Crash No. 2: While he was driving, a trucker’s trailer lights went off and then came back on. He pulled his rig to the shoulder to investigate. The driver turned on his four-ways but did not put out triangles. He checked the trailer light coupling and found nothing irregular, which took 10 minutes. While outside the vehicle, he decided to urinate. He was about to put the tractor in gear when his trailer was rear-ended by a drunk driver. The car driver died; his passenger survived.
• Crash No. 3: A trucker began sliding on icy pavement as he descended a steep interstate grade. He came to a stop on the shoulder at the bottom of the hill and chose to stay in his rig with his four-way flashers and heater on for more than 10 minutes. He did not put out his triangles. A seven vehicle pile-up ensued because motorists were sliding into the parked rig.
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