Split Second Disaster
It was a typical traffic stop for Illinois State Trooper Douglass Balder on the brisk and frigid night of January 27, 2014. With police lights flashing, Officer Balder pulled off the far right lane of the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway to assist a stalled-out tractor trailer bound for Chicago. He pulled up behind the tow truck and Tollway Assistance Vehicle that had already arrived to help the stranded trucker. As he prepared to exit his vehicle, he had no idea that his life was about to change forever.
At the same moment, local truck driver Renato Velasquez began falling asleep while speeding down the Tollway. Unfortunately, this single moment of exhaustion and fatigue would result in dire consequences. Velasquez smashed into Officer Balder’s squad car at 63 miles per hour. The impact ignited the gas tank of Balder’s car, setting it ablaze and launching it into a nearby ditch. One of the enormous steel coils, being carried by Velasquez’s truck, broke loose and struck the Tollway vehicle. Its driver was instantly killed by the impact and the big rig operator, who was in the passenger seat, was severely injured. Once Balder regained consciousness he struggled to escape his burning vehicle, suffering severe burns that would put him in the hospital for months.
This scenario, initially reported by Michael McAuliff-Senior Congressional Reporter at The Huffington Post, is one of many that result from overworked and exhausted drivers in the trucking and transportation industry.
The Deeper Issue
With the recovering economy and push for expansion in all industries, it is easy to see how a desire for increased production is inevitable. Though this push results in higher output, it can often put a heavy strain on the individuals that work in these industries.
One facet of the production process that is particularly affected by this increased burden is the trucking and transportation industry. New congressional policies, being pushed through by lobbyists, suggest expanding the 80,000 pound limit on truck loads and increasing the length of trucks from 28 feet to 33 feet. They also suggest longer hours for drivers by altering rest hours. This could allow drivers to work up to 82 hours per week instead of the current limit of 70 hours. One such policy would lower the age limit of drivers from 21 to 18 years old. These alterations, while allowing for greater production output, increase the prevalence of exhausted drivers and deadly accidents.
Drivers working longer hours, hauling heavier loads and having less experience create a recipe for disaster. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), truck-related incidents have risen an average of 17.3 % between 2009 and 2013. In the same time span, the number of deaths as a result of truck accidents rose from 3,380 to 3,964 per year. The increase in these incidents is likely due to the increased burden placed on drivers . Exhausted drivers are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel and cause a fatal accident.
The solution to this issue lies with lawmakers. Improved regulations for the trucking industry are required to keep drivers safe and help prevent future fatalities.
Source: Michael McAuliff, The Huffington Post, Trucks Are Getting More Dangerous And Drivers Are Falling Asleep At The Wheel. Thank Congress.