Learning from Crash Events

There’s a lot being reported about the crash on the New Jersey Turnpike which involved a Tractor Trailer and a chauffeured limousine-van transporting comedian Tracy Morgan. Tragically, several people were injured and one passenger died.

Some of the clear facts include:

  • The tractor trailer was traveling above the posted (construction zone) limit of 45 MPH.
  • The event occurred during the early morning hours when visibility is reduced and all drivers are more prone to drowsiness.
  • The tractor trailer operator had been on duty for most of his allotted-by-regulation time (suggesting fatigue as a possible contributing factor).

According to other reports (Star Ledger, et.al.):

  • The tractor trailer “…was equipped with sophisticated collision-avoidance systems that included forward-looking radar with interactive cruise control — all designed to begin automatically braking the big truck when it sensed traffic slowing down. It was programmed to notify the driver of any vehicles stopped ahead in the roadway. There was an on-board computer, blind spot sensors, and electronic controls limiting its top speed to 65 miles per hour.”
  • ATA executive vice president David Osiecki was quoted as saying that speeding is “the highest cause and contributing factor” in most crashes.  Further, “We want to return to a national maximum speed limit. Some states are at 80. Some at 75. That’s the biggest safety problem on the highways.”

So what can we conclude — how do we learn from this to prevent similar tragedies in the future?  The National Transportation Safety Board and the NJ State Police are actively investigating to follow up on questions like:

  • Did the on-board collision warning and avoidance system fail to function correctly?
  • While the tractor trailer driver was within his regulated allotment of duty/driving hours, should the regulations be modified further?
  • Was a lack of enforcement of speed limits in a construction zone play some role in creating a culture of speeding on that highway?
  • Were seatbelts in the limo adequate to prevent further/greater injuries or could their design be improved, too?

All road deaths and injury producing crashes are tragic, and we need to learn from each occurrence to determine ways to prevent future events.

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Trailer Under-ride Guards (Don’t Lose Your Head in a Crash)

Though our headline/title may seem a like a very bad joke, we’re deadly serious.  Motorists who drive too fast, tailgate or drive “distracted” behind large tractor-trailer rigs are putting themselves in harm’s way — they could become decapitated if they crash into the rear corner of a trailer at speeds as low as 35 miles per hour.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducts many different kinds of crash testing. Recently (this March) they conducted crash testing of many different brands of trailers to see the effects on a 2010 Chevy Malibu and its crash-test-dummy occupants.  Only one brand of trailer saved the dummies in all three types of testing scenarios.  This was accomplished by using a different approach to the manufacturing of the under-ride guard.

Since most motorists won’t be able to pick and choose which type of trailer they crash into, they need to give tractor-trailer rigs a wide berth on the highway — stay out of their “no-zone” or blind areas, especially the area immediately behind the trailer.

To better illustrate the seriousness of the situation, please take a moment to watch this informative video from IIHS.