In the last month, dozens of people in the U.S. were killed and many more severely injured when their vehicles were rear-ended by tractor trailer drivers that were distracted, fatigued or just not paying attention. In March 2015, Dexter Culclager lost his wife and three children when they were inexplicably rear-ended by an 80,000-pound semi and died in a fiery crash. They had been broken down for more than five minutes on the flat portion of the Buckman Bridge when they were struck. There was nothing blocking the truck driver’s view from 8 feet high in the tractor cab. There was even a Nissan Murano stopped behind the Culclager family with three people that were seriously injured when the semi struck their vehicle first. Yet the truck driver did not hit the brakes until the time of impacting the Culclager family’s Tahoe. We may never know what that truck driver was really doing in the cab of that semi, but we do know that this tragedy and many others should have never happened. No family should have the image of a semi like this bearing down on them as their last memory together.
The loss of life and serious injuries from these tractor trailers causing catastrophic rear-end crashes are easily preventable using readily available and relatively inexpensive technology already on the market. The National Transportation Safety Board recommended earlier this year that all semi tractors be equipped with forward facing collision avoidance systems with automatic emergency braking. This technology uses either radar or sonar sensors to detect objects in the roadway in front of the semi tractor and then automatically stop or significantly slow the tractor trailer before impact. The cost ranges somewhere between $500 for a basic forward facing system that gives the tractor trailer driver an audible warning of a vehicle or object ahead to $5,000 for a system that will sense the vehicle ahead and stop the tractor trailer before impact. Considering many of these tractors cost well over $100,000, this is a cost that should not be avoided.
In a telling move, the American Trucking Association’s Board of Directors just voted at its annual meeting on October 20, 2015 to support Original Equipment Manufacturers installing collision avoidance and emergency braking systems on all new trucks. Considering the trucking industry usually lags far behind on safety initiatives, especially those with financial implications, this could signal a significant paradigm shift in favor of safety. We simply should not sacrifice lives and serious injuries for the cost of less than a month’s worth of fuel expenses for many professional truck drivers. This is an issue that directly impacts us all. The seriously injured victims of these crashes are often paralyzed, suffer severe traumatic brain injuries, or are significantly impaired. They cannot work again and get put on social security and Medicare or Medicaid. Their families often go from being able to support themselves to requiring government benefits just to put food on the table, not even taking into account the emotional losses caused by the injuries to their loved ones. All of us pay for those government systems by way of ever-increasing state and federal taxes.
For $500, the truck driver who hit the Culcalger family would have heard an audible warning hundreds of feet in advance of the Murano, making him aware of the helpless families in his path, and he would have been able to brake or swerve to avoid the crash altogether. For $5,000, the semi would have sensed the Murano ahead and stopped the tractor whether or not the driver responded. I hope and pray that every motor carrier and every truck driver will immediately retrofit their semi tractors and install collision avoidance systems with automatic emergency braking. No more spouses, no more children, no more siblings, not one more single person should be injured or killed in this type of completely preventable rear-end crash.