The Truck Rollover Accident….Did it “Just Happen?”

The Truck Rollover Accident….Did it “Just Happen?”

No one who drives a semi-truck for a living ever thinks this could happen to them.  Period.  The road is full of drivers who tell themselves, when they drive by this accident, “Poor guy.  That’ll never happen to me!”  Or, they rationalize by saying to themselves “must have blown a steer.”  …or, perhaps, “I bet a four-wheeler cut him off!”  The chatter on the CB is full of insightful analysis by the passing “professionals” that would never let this happen to them!

Now let’s come back to reality:  This type of accident happens way too often, and many times, to the experienced driver who has never had an accident!  How could that be?  While we could go through a number of “forensic” statistics about rollover accidents (I don’t want to put you to sleep), we’re going to look at a few of the main causes of the rollover – and how you can prevent being involved in one.

Speed.  Speeding in a commercial motor vehicle contributes to the majority of crashes, plain and simple.  Many drivers don’t believe this one, but study after study proves it to be the case.  Running just 5 miles over the posted limit increases your chances of being involved in a crash 400% more likely!  Just “gotta get there?” …don’t count on it!  The fact is there is no justification for breaking the posted speed limit in a truck!  Many states are targeting speeding enforcement for a good reason; reducing the number of accidents (not just rollovers).  Several states will stop a truck for less than 5 miles an hour over the limit.  This stop, even if it doesn’t result in a citation, will gain you CSA 2010 points, and cost you valuable time!  So running over the limit has now cost you time instead of gaining time!

Speeding also becomes more common when you travel the same roads time and time again.  Let’s face it – if you know the road, you are more likely to “push a little harder.”  This can be your downfall, whether you choose to believe it or not.  You see the yellow speed signs all the time.  These are the “recommended safe speed” postings for the particular road, or curve, you are negotiating.  If it says “35 MPH,” you should be at “30 MPH” if you want to play it safe.  You’ll take the curve at 30 a few times, then at 35, then at 40, and so on.  One day, when you have a particularly top-heavy load, you’ll push just a little too hard.  The next thing you know, you are looking at the world from a different angle.  Like they say:  You can take the curve, or grade, too slow a thousand times and other drivers may make fun of you.  Take it too fast one time, and it will be your last.  Bottom line:  Slow down and respect the physics of weight in motion and the effect speed has on it.

Inattentive Driving.  Distractions are a common part of driving.  It takes a professional to not let them become a hazard.  Cell phones, food, passengers, unclear directions; these are all things that can take your focus away from where it should be – on what’s in front of you!  Let’s face it, we’ve all been there (whether you’ll admit it or not).  We’re unwrapping that hamburger, reaching for a bag of chips or a drink, lighting a smoke, checking out the “seat cover” next to you, or trying to dial a cell phone.  It only takes a few seconds of distraction to cause disaster.

Put yourself in this situation:  You’ve driven this particular two-lane road in and out of a regular shipper a hundred times.  You know every curve, and every grade.  You’ve rounded the last curve before a 3/4 mile straight stretch.  You finally shift it into the “big hole” and are picking up speed.  Time to relax for a second and reach for your bag of Skittles.  After looking away from the road for about 3 seconds, your right steer tire gets too close to the edge of the pavement.  This just happens to be a spot where the edge of the pavement is about 8″ thick.  By the time you realize what’s happened, your steer is off the pavement in the grass.  You fight for control, but there’s no pulling it over that big hump easily.  By now, you realize the shoulder is an embankment that slopes steeper and steeper down about 15′ below the level of the roadway.  As the truck and trailer begin to descend down the slope, you continue fighting to regain control.  “If I could just get it back on the road” races through your mind until it consumes you.  Unbeknownst to you, your fate is already sealed.  The 41,000 pound load you have in the wagon has begun to shift – gravity has taken control of your situation.  As the load shifts to the right, you abruptly pull the wheel to the left.  You, now, are focused solely on the roadway.  If you could just get back there, everything will be OK!  Not realizing it, you have just accelerated the shift that’s occurring behind you.  In a “crack the whip” move, you’ve just slammed the cargo against the right side of the trailer.  This last bit of momentum is all it takes – you’re now rolling over to the right.  Whether you want it to or not, your load is finding the “bottom,” driven now by gravity and momentum.  Time stands still, and you see the world outside your windshield roll to the left in slow motion.  As you skid to a stop, you try to process the events, and your brain is overloaded.  Fortunately for you, you did have your seat belt on.  Had you not, you would have fallen several feet to the right side of the cab where glass is breaking and the sod is being torn.

…All of this caused by you needing a Skittle more than you   needed to control your truck!  Sound familiar?  I’m describing a rollover accident we had not very long ago.  A rollover that happened to a driver with over 7 years of experience!  I know the details because I was there.  I had just finished dispatching this driver a couple of hours before the accident, and received a call no one wants.  I went to the scene and investigated it with the State Police.  The cause was clear – inattentive driving.  Fortunately, the driver was OK; treated and released at the hospital with cracked ribs and bruises, and no other vehicles were involved.  …could have been much worse.

How can you prevent this from happening to you?

  • Pay attention to your speed, especially on curves and grades.  Anytime you are making your truck change its direction of travel, you are much more susceptible to the forces of physics that cause a crash.
  • Heed the “recommended safe speed” yellow signs on curves.  These posted speeds are based on the severity of the curve and the “super elevation” (or slope) of the roadway.  Take the curve about 5 mph below the posted speed.
  • Don’t be tempted by distractions!  The food, drink, cell phone, etc. can all wait.  From the time you push the buttons in, until you pull them out again, you are “on the clock!”  Be engaged in driving anytime the brakes are not set, and focused on the road ahead of you!
  • Learn from your mistakes.  We’ve all “scared” ourselves before, and managed to get through it without losing control.  These are valuable lessons for any driver – learn from them, and don’t make the same mistake twice!
  • Don’t let “experience” equal “complacency!”  A true “professional” driver never loses respect for the size and weight of his or her vehicle.  Remember, you’re driving a 70+ foot long, 80,000 pound “killing machine.”  That demands your respect and attention at all times!

Bottom Line:  14 people die every day in accidents with commercial motor vehicles.  Only one of those 14 are the truck driver.  The rest are our loved ones, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.  Rollovers take a heavy toll, not only in dollars, but in human life.  No load is worth your life, or the lives of others!