Wyoming I-80 Multi-Vehicle Pile-Up Catastrophe
By now I am sure just about everyone has seen or heard on the news about the multiple crash events that happened recently in Wyoming on Interstate 80. First, I want to state that my heart goes out to all the drivers, truck and car alike, who were in these wrecks. Their personal and professional vehicles have been damaged, in many cases completely totaled. To some this means a complete loss of income. And that is just the small stuff. The injuries, the stress, the worry, the heartache, the aftermath in dealing with it all, I can’t even imagine. Then there is the life that was lost, that family has a missing piece that can never be replaced. These kinds of tragedies reap all kinds of havoc in a myriad of ways. The fallout from which leaves people angry and crying for answers, pointing fingers or blame, for vengeance.
The media is like a leech feeding off that negative energy and continues to spin a story in what every sensationalistic light it can to prolong the outcry from the public to its benefit. And trust me it has a benefit in the form of green, as in money. But that is for another day. Today isn’t about smoke and mirrors of press and government agencies, its about realities and physics, and a little bit of understanding amidst a horrible tragedy.
We spent most of the winter traveling between Nashville/Atlanta and Seattle. That meant many long treks across Wyoming and I-80. The winter was mild this year. We actually joked after being down South that we needed to go back to Seattle to get warm. Wyoming didn’t get hit really hard until this month, a late spring storm. On par with storms up there, it was a doozy I-80 across Wyoming is a long stretch of… well, a long stretch. You see lots of nothing. Fields and hills, mountains, snow drift guards, and flashing signs warning of high winds or “interstate closed if flashing.” There is a lot of wide open spaces in Wyoming, queue the Dixie Chicks. Wyoming DOT has their work cut out for them in bad weather, which means, well, the roads don’t get well maintained, they get shut down. And with this storm they were shut down, a lot. Then reopened, and shut down again, then opened, and shut. You get the picture. It was bad and quite hard to keep the roads clear for any length of time.
What happens when you get stuck somewhere for an extended length of time? When you finally are able to be on your way? Why of course you typically tend to rush, even in less than ideal conditions. Oh come on! Be honest here, no one is looking. You’re just reading. Admit to yourself that you’ve rushed somewhere, sped a little when you shouldn’t have in the rain, the snow, too windy, bad traffic, something because you were late for something. Just about everyone has done it some time or another if you've ever driven a motor vehicle in your life. Now imagine a pack of people heading out from a gathering point where they’ve been held over against their will for hours. Some trying to get home to waiting family, maybe school-aged kids. Some trying to get to work. Others, truck drivers trying to make deliveries with dispatchers hundreds of miles away in a warm cozy office, or at home in their pajamas with their families talking on a cell phone being uncaring to the stranded truck driver, making threats of decreased pay for late delivery etc… Everyone heading out is in a bit of a rush despite horrible weather conditions. Despite the fact that Wyoming DOT probably should not have opened the highways so soon, but probably did so under pressure from thousands of people stranded trying to get across the state. Maybe these rushed people weren’t “speeding” but traveling a too fast for weather conditions.
What were those weather conditions? Roads slushy, black ice, snow covered, high winds, very low visibility. Essentially winter blizzard, yet DOT opened the highway saying it was ok to travel. In those weather conditions semi trucks absolutely by law are required to have tire chains on their tires. Most cars do not take this precaution.
Most of the larger trucking companies out there today, JB Hunt, Schneider, Swift, Wal-Mart, Celedon, just to name a few, have their trucks governed, or equipped with “speed limiters” usually between 58-65mph anyway. These trucks because of their controlled speed are used to running in “packs”, meaning they don’t space themselves out naturally. They can’t pass normally, they hold up traffic, etc So they get in a pattern, a habit. Now they are out there in bad weather, repeating a dangerous habit in extremely dangerous weather. When you run in a pack and something goes wrong it has a domino effect escalating rapidly. One truck gets in trouble and suddenly they all are in trouble because there is no room or time to maneuver. This is a serious issue with speed limiters. They may not have been running at top speed in this storm, I certainly hope not, but they were repeating patterns learned by being limited by their speed limited engines.
Another issue is CBs. For a truck driver CBs are not a toy, but a necessary toolbox matter what anyone says. This trend to stop using them is a detriment to the industry when it could be use to prevent so many incidents.
For those that cry they are a distraction, if you’re going through a town or at a truck stop and someone is being obnoxious that’s what the volume or power knobs are for. But in bad traffic or weather situations CBs are an excellent tool for ANY driver, not just truck drivers. In the case of the Wyoming pile up, if the drivers in the back had their CBs on, or even HAD CBs in their trucks they might have heard some of the other drivers in the pile up yelling out on the radio about the accident. Or heard from drivers heading the opposite directions giving them a heads up to slow down and stop that there was a big accident. They would have known instead of just continuing on and plowing into everyone else.
So many new truckers today say they don’t need a CB because of the new technology, ie cell phones and such. But even for a car driver a CB is a great tool to have at your disposal. A cell phone can’t tell you about that accident around that sharp curve when it’s raining, or notify you that hey your brake light is out, or did you know you’re dragging a chain and it’s sparking back there? Or, there’s a huge accident 3 miles up and they have the interstate blocked, instead of sitting for 2 hours you might want to jump off at the next exit and go around on local roads.
Should DOT have kept the roads closed longer? Probably
Should DOT have done a better job clearing the roads? Again probably, but it was a bad storm and their workers may have been at capacity.
Should everyone (cars included) have had chains on their tires? Yes.
Should everyone (cars included) have been traveling at slower speeds? Again, Yes.
Are vehicles traveling in packs a safety issue? Absolutely.
Would everyone, or at least all big trucks, having CBs in their trucks at least lessened the damage of the pileup? Probably.
The purpose of this long explanation and rant? Don’t believe everything the media tells you. Semi truck drivers are not complete idiots and reckless road mongers. 80,000lbs just can't stop on a dime. Many of the trucks that were on the road were under pressure to get delivered regardless of circumstances. And believe me there were cars being reckless in that mix too,but the media doesn't like to focus on that.
Right now there is more going on behind the scenes with the ATA and government/industry payoffs, CARB fraud being uncovered, congress and OOIDA going after the FMCSA to tear them down and reform or completely dismantle, and so much more. In the midst of it all, instead of building the industry up, “big trucking” if you will like the ATA is doing everything they can to destroy the image of trucking and make it impossible for the American Trucker to earn a living. The harder we fight for real reform and cleaning up of regulations and our image, the worse they actually make it.
I will end my rant for now. But I will continue to update on reasons why car drivers hate truck drivers so much, and vice versa. And why we really just all want to get along if the big agencies like ATA and FMCSA would just get out of the way.