Two deadly Trumbull crashes raise questions about causes

We’ll stipulate that we don’t know what was going in the cab of the tractor-trailer in the seconds before a deadly accident on Interstate 80 near Hubbard Monday.

And the public still doesn’t know what happened in the moments before another tractor-trailer smashed into a car carrying Marine recruits to Cleveland on March 31 on the other side of Trumbull County.

But we know enough to be frightened by the similarity in these crashes and to suggest that something may have been happening that should cause worry for every motorist on the road.

In each crash three lives were snuffed out.

The cars in which those victims were riding were reduced to tangled masses of metal.

The force with which the cars were struck was tremendous, as one would expect when a vehicle weighing as much as 40 tons hits one that weighs about 2 tons.

The trucks were moving at a substantial speed at the time of the crashes, which raises questions as to whether the drivers had been fully engaged in controlling their vehicles — or were they distracted to an extent that they only hit their brakes after it was far too late. Indeed, in the case of the accident in which the three Marine recruits died, there was a question as to whether the driver even tried to brake before impact. In Monday’s accident, the truck’s skid marks stretched for only a couple of car lengths before impact.

Special responsibility

To be sure, accidents happen, but it is the responsibility of all drivers to remain alert and focused on their driving. In the case of truck drivers, the responsibility is even greater because of the damage that a tractor-trailer can do. Besides, being alert at all times is part of the job.

When most drivers misjudge the speed of the traffic ahead of them or fail to notice that they’re entering a construction zone, the result is at worst a fender bender. But twice in as many months, we’ve seen what happens when a trucker makes the same type of mistake.

Was distracted driving a factor in these six deaths? Time will tell, as facts come out in court during possible criminal prosecutions and almost inevitable civil suits. Investigators can get access to cell phone and computer records, as well as, in some cases, video from in-cab cameras installed by trucking companies.

But for now, distracted driving is certainly a possibility worth considering because it is one explanation for the delayed response to conditions on the road.

The U.S. Department of Transportation says there are three main types of distraction behind the wheel:

Visual: Taking your eyes off the road.

Manual: Taking you hands of the wheel

Cognitive: Taking your mind off what you’re doing.

And one pastime some drivers of trucks and cars alike engage in involves all three: texting.

And while DOT has banned texting by commercial drivers, no one is claiming it has been eliminated.

Researchers at Virginia Tech found that truck drivers who send text messages on a cell phone are about 23 times more likely to get into some type of crash or near-miss than drivers who keep their eyes on the road. And how quickly can that trouble develop? A truck can travel the length of a football field in the time it takes to send a typical text message.

And while accidents do happen, it’s no longer purely an accident when any driver knowingly engages in any activity that dramatically increases the likelihood of a collision.

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