Friday, February 20, 2015

New Jersey ‘death-by-truck’ crashes: No one comes out ‘unscathed’

There was a powerful story on NJ.com earlier this week about a string of crashes involving people who intentionally walked in front of tractor-trailers on the New Jersey highway system. According to the report, 2014 was the deadliest year for pedestrians in the Garden State in more than a decade, topping out at 170 incidents in 2014, almost 30 percent higher than in 2013.

If you’ve been on the road long enough, you’ve probably had a close call, or maybe you or someone you know has been in the same tragic situation trucker Bob Eason found himself in last September on Route 287. According to the report, Eason was heading back toward his home in Sinking Spring, Pa., after a delivery, when a 37-year-old man from Denville, N.J., jumped in front of his rig. The report states that the man had parked his car on the shoulder of the highway and hid in front of it until jumping into Eason’s path.

Eason tells the paper that he still has nightmares about the event and that it’s become difficult for him to handle driving.

“I work very hard to put food on the table for my family, but I don't know why the guy chose my truck,” he said. “It's tough for me. I can't trust anybody. I don't believe that they're not going to jump in front of me and take their own life.”

In addition to talking with a trucker, the story also provides information on resources and help available for truckers like Eason who are struggling with feelings of guilt, remorse or other trauma.

Our own Contributing Writer Charlie Morasch tackled the subject of drivers’ coping with death, loss and in some instances survivor’s guilt in a story titled “Why me? I was a good driver” in the May 2012 issue of Land Line Magazine. He talked to a handful of members who shared their experiences during and in the aftermath of tragedy.

One of the subjects of his story, OOIDA Life Member Ray Shankle, said he shakes his head when he sees a report of a trucking-involved fatality in which the reporter writes “the trucker was not hurt.”

“They say, ‘The trucker was not injured,’” Ray says. “Well, you might not have any physical injuries, but that driver has a helluva load on his shoulders no matter whose fault it is. He was behind the wheel of an instrument of death. No matter what, he is not unscathed.”

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Days numbered for Oregon’s ‘fantasy land’ speed limit policy?

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned on Wednesday amid calls for him to step aside due to questions about business dealings with his fiancee.

Kitzhaber said it was time for him to step away as questions about his administration have “reached the point of no return.”

The now former governor had been in office since 2011. He won re-election in November 2014, beating out then-state Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Republican. The Democratic governor also held the state’s top executive seat from 1995 to 2003.

Kitzhaber is perhaps most notable to truckers for vetoing multiple bills that sought to increase speed limits and reduce the speed differential between cars and trucks. In 1999 and 2001, bills sent to the governor’s desk authorized the Oregon Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit from 55 mph to 65 mph for trucks and from 65 mph to 70 mph for cars on rural stretches of Interstates 5 and 84.

A former emergency room doctor, Kitzhaber said on both occasions he was concerned the speed increase would encourage drivers to drive even faster, making the roads more dangerous.

“There is no question that increased speeds will compromise the safety of our rural interstate highway system, and the evidence is clear that highway fatalities will increase as speed increases,” he said following a 1999 veto.

The argument was also made during the time period that there were not enough trauma centers in rural Oregon to accommodate victims of the expected spike in speed-related wrecks.

Two years later, Kitzhaber said he might have signed the 2001 version if the Legislature had provided more money for additional state troopers to patrol roads.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Randy Miller, said following the veto that he was hopeful the next governor would not “live in a fantasy land” like Kitzhaber.

Fourteen years later, Oregon, California and Delaware remain the only states to prohibit trucks to drive faster than 55 mph. Oregon and Wisconsin are the only non-Northeastern states to keep car speeds below 70 mph.

It’s unclear if the sudden change in the governor’s suite will result in any state lawmakers acting this year to pursue the reduction or elimination of Oregon’s speed differential. But with only a handful of states continuing to limit trucks to speeds slower than other vehicles, change could soon be on the way.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The highway philosophers

It’s 2025 and you’re listening to “Fire Away,” the straight-talk show that puts public officials on the hot seat.

“Hi, I’m Steve Belligereno and today we’re speaking with Secretary of Transportation Wally Watson. The subject is trucks. Good morning, Wally.”

“Good morning, Steve. Great to be here. I think.”

“Let’s start with the 92 trucks that ran off the pier at Port Newark last week.”

“Ninety-one, Steve. The one with the driver veered off at the last second.”

“Still outrageous! How could one driver lead an army of trucks off the New Jersey Turnpike and into Newark Bay?”

“It wasn't an army, Steve. It was a platoon. They were platooning. Only the first truck has a driver, the rest are automated and follow ...”

“We get that, Wally. Just tell us what happened.”

“Well, turns out the driver got a little steamed when his toll authorization was revoked ...”

“Wait a minute, Wally. Aren’t today’s truck drivers the most carefully selected, intelligent, and insanely healthy ever? Isn’t that what the DOT promised?”

“Sure, but ...”

“Didn’t that DOT’s Perfect Driver Initiative start with the Wristband Mandate? Don’t all CDL drivers wear health monitor wristbands at all times?”

“Of course ...”

“And wasn’t that followed up by the Blood Pressure Mandate?”

“Of course. All drivers have their blood pressure checked continuously in the driver’s seat ...”

“And then there was the Catheter Mandate.”

“That was a tough one, Steve. But it did away with those pesky random drug tests and inefficient pit stops.”

“And then there was the master’s degree requirement.”

“We've got some darn smart drivers out there, Steve. That driver had a degree in crisis management.”

“But there are still too few drivers, Wally, isn’t that right?”

“True. The Perfect Driver Initiative didn’t help the driver shortage. However, we look on the bright side: Motorists are very happy there are fewer trucks on the road.”

“But they’re not happy about those long truck trains ...”

“Platoons, Steve.”

“OK, platoons. Just yesterday one of those platoons inadvertently pulled off I-74 and turned downtown Peoria into a parking lot.”

“I grant you, Steve, he probably shouldn’t have done that ...”

“Well, why did he?”

“According to my people on the scene, his navigation application was distracted by a Facebook coupon for Burger Barge.”

“But why didn’t the driver override the navigation application and stay on 74?”

“The coupon was a real bargain.”

“A bargain! What does that have to do with anything, Wally?”

“Well, Steve, the driver’s degree was in economics.”

“OK, then let’s talk about economics. We have the smartest, healthiest, best-rested drivers in the world. But everyone complains that we can’t seem to get the freight delivered. What’s going on here, Wally?”

“We’re looking into that.”

“Could it be that driver pay is too low?”

“Oh no, Steve. A recent study shows that drivers are looking for pretty trucks, sensitive dispatchers, friendly performance feedback, and free Internet – not pay.”

“I find that astounding and very hard to believe!”

“Well, Steve, it’s easier to understand when you consider that a good proportion of today’s perfect drivers were philosophy majors.”