Rollovers Kill Hundreds of Truckers a Year
It was almost midnight when Walter Price eased his 18-wheeler into the right lane on Interstate 75 near Atlanta. As he began to bank onto the exit ramp he’d been taking for the past 10 years, Price had no idea he was entering America’s most dangerous hot zone for truck drivers.
As Price rounded the curve onto Exit 238-B that cold night in February 2012, a small black car darted in front of him on an otherwise deserted highway. The car’s driver slammed on the brakes to negotiate the exit’s sharp curve. Price had to veer left and hit his brakes to avoid a collision. But the curve was too sharp and Price’s 36-ton rig carrying car parts began to roll.
“Once you hear the freight break loose and start sliding, there’s absolutely nothing you can do,” the veteran truck driver recalled. “You can kiss your ass goodbye.”
Price was lucky. He survived his rollover, every trucker’s worst nightmare. Many others do not. Each year, hundreds of truck drivers die across the country on congested roadways and antiquated exit ramps like the one where Price crashed, a national crisis in which a crumbling interstate highway system, designed in the mid-1950s, is bearing the ever more burdensome load of the booming trucking industry.
When comedian Tracy Morgan suffered brain damage and his friend was killed in a crash with a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. truck in June, Americans were reminded how lethal a rolling 18-wheeler can be for car passengers. Far less noticed are the rollovers that are especially deadly for truck drivers.
Though they accounted for just 3.3 percent of all large-truck crashes, rollovers were responsible for more than half of the deaths to drivers and their occupants in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. That’s 300 truck occupant deaths and 3,000 injuries every year. And among the 2.6 million workers in the U.S. who drive trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds (4,500 kilograms), crashes are the leading cause of on-the-job death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Overworked, distracted and sleepy drivers are causes of rollovers. But so too are outdated highway engineering and growing gridlock as a booming trucking industry puts ever greater strain on the nation’s aging roadways. Truck tonnage hauled jumped to an all-time high in January, the American Trucking Associations reported. Truck freight may rise 5.3 percent this year from 4 percent in 2014, according to FTR Associates data compiled by Bloomberg, as job growth spurs U.S. consumer spending.
The almost 10 billion tons of freight carried annually is taking such a toll on the nation’s highways that politicians of all stripes are angling to raise the money needed to fix them. Michigan Republican governor Rick Snyder has endorsed a ballot proposal to raise the sales tax to repair what he called his state’s “rotten roads and bridges.” Iowa Republican governor is also considering higher taxes to cover road repairs.
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