Slam, Bam, Kapow! Preventing Another I-80 Truck Pileup

I-80 Wyoming pileup 4-16-2015

Remembering the Wyoming Pileups of April 16 2015

The person with the camera was at a loss at the amazing sight. A cavalcade of tractor-trailers, from some of the biggest fleets in the U.S., slammed into each other with a steady cadence.

Three pileups on I-80 occurred that day due to blizzard conditions that dumped about 10 inches of snow. The worst pileup was near mile post 342. Roads were described as icy and slick and driving as treacherous.

What went wrong?

Training wasn’t an issue. These drivers are probably the best trained drivers we have ever produced.

Equipment wasn’t an issue. Most equipment was A+, top-notch, primo equipment.

Experience, perhaps, is a question mark. Many drivers, especially new drivers, take their cues from other drivers. They watch what everyone else is doing and try to do the same.

Drivers have a tendency to drive in packs. When two and three tractor-trailers are slamming into the pileup together, what does that tell you? Riding side-by-side or passing in blizzard conditions is highly risky.

How about some radio silence on the CB? Did you know that CBs are starting to get banned in certain areas? The CB should be a safety tool. How about saving Channel 19 for the real work and find another frequency to ratchet-jaw?

Accidents Don’t Happen

Safety experts say collisions, incidents or “accidents” just don’t happen. In almost every case a number of risk factors (and “red flags”) are also present. Here the slick roads, heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions all contributed to the crashes. And a primary crash can lead to secondary crashes, so a crash in itself is a risk factor for another crash to occur.

According to the Wyoming Highway Patrol the primary root causes in these crashes were no mystery:

  • Speeds too fast for the blizzard conditions,
  • Loss of control.

Seeing it actually happen as it occurs, for myself at least, is unbelievable.

Drivers appear stunned. And some were seriously hurt. The trucks hit hard and form a solid wall of steel and twisted metal. Some drivers are trapped, but fortunately the snow absorbs most of the spilled diesel and there is no fire.

Here’s another view from the other side . . .

Winter Driving Blues

There are two times, I believe, winter can be dangerous: at the start, when drivers need to adjust their driving style to the new realities of winter, and at the end of winter, when dry roads can quickly become icy or slick due to inclement weather.

Right now we are only in the first phases of winter.

 New Drivers Listen Up

If you are new to truck driving, be aware that fresh snow can pack hard and form ice. Once a road is iced up, a driver needs to really slow down, or even get off of the road, if necessary. It can take hundreds of feet for a truck to come to a stop on a snow-packed or icy road, If a truck is light or empty additional distance is needed to stop. All stops need to be smooth and gradual. This takes more space. A panic stop will result in a skid or jackknife. A driver easily needs three to four times as much space to safely stop. And If the ice is wet, it will take 10 times the distance to stop. 10X!  Even the Kiwis know that.

“On ice it can take up to 10 times the distance to stop.” NZ Transport Agency

In the Wyoming crash, drivers really did not even see what they were driving into. Visibility is poor. There was no way they could safety stop. They did not “leave themselves an out.” The results speak for themselves.

I hope we can do better than last year. We really need to.

Action Summary

  • Start indoctrinating your drivers for heavy winter driving.
  • Have a written policy for driving in inclement weather. Everyone (drivers, dispatch, schedulers) needs to know when to say no, when enough is enough.
  • Drivers need to “read the road” for red flags: No oncoming traffic on the opposite side says something is up. Heavy wet snow will pack and form ice, wet ice. Ice forming on the wipers, or the outside of the mirrors, is a red flag, etc.

Thank you for reading this. Have a safe day.

 

 

 

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