A 70-year-old truck driver was traveling westbound on I-196 near Grandville, MI, driving a truck carrying cakes when his truck crossed the center line and collided with a 20078 Chevy Tahoe. The truck hurtled over the edge. an overpass and both vehicles caught fire.
Motorists who stopped at the scene and Grandville police officers helped get 82-year-old Robert Gortner out of Tahoe. But his wife, a passenger, was trapped in the vehicle and Robert Osborne, 70, was trapped in his truck. Edna Gortner, 83, of Grand Rapids and Osborn of Macelona, both died. An elderly passenger in the Tahoe died along with the truck driver. That was in September 2009.
About a year earlier, in July 2008, a 71-year-old trucker on I-75 in Michigan crashed into vehicles in the southbound lanes, killing 19-year-old Kara Joan Larivee of Rochester Hills. The 71-year-old driver, already driving at high speed, did not react quickly enough to the fact that traffic had stopped due to merging.
The common denominator of both tragedies is that no accident should have occurred, no one should have died, and both truck drivers were 70 years or older.
As a personal liability attorney who has lamented to clients about unnecessary deaths resulting from car and truck accidents, I have argued in the past that truck-related fatalities can be reduced by paying more attention to road safety and security. driver fatigue. In recent months, I’ve become convinced that the effort should now include a three-point approach: safer roads, less driver fatigue, and a mandatory retirement age for truck drivers.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that up to 4,000 Americans a year are killed in collisions with trucks that have incurred thousands of safety violations, such as faulty brakes, defective tires, or loads dangerously beyond weight limits. Many of the truck drivers involved had little or no training, many were 65 or older, and many others had a history of alcohol and drug abuse.
Because Michigan does not allow punitive damages against truck drivers, in effect, all truckers have immunity from liability. For that reason, truckers who cause tragic accidents will continue to drive even without training, continue to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and continue to drive when age slows their reflexes and judgment.
Truck accidents occur due to fatigue, road design flaws, faulty equipment, and driver errors. Some causes are predictable; others are not. However, the result is always predictable: the shear volume of a truck traveling at 40 mph or faster will always wreak havoc.
The biggest killer on our roads is fatigue. Federal transportation officials must establish strict guidelines to ensure that log books are properly maintained and that commercial carriers ensure that their drivers get the rest they need between trips.
US state highway departments must adopt an aggressive program to expand two-lane highways in all areas to make high-speed travel safer for everyone. Law enforcement officials must monitor our roads to enforce speed limits rather than tolerating drivers traveling at 80 mph or more.
I became an advocate for reforms to reduce the number of car-truck crashes after representing the family of a 5-year-old boy who was killed when a semi-trailer truck collided behind a vehicle his mother was driving.
The minimal reforms I advocated at the time were: paving construction to widen our two-lane highways or at least provide more lanes for left turns, increasing speed enforcement on two-lane highways, strict enforcement of limits of truck drivers driving time can avoid fatalities.
Now I add to my call for reform the need to lower the maximum driving age for all truckers to 65. Because we cannot predict with certainty the age at which a driver’s physical and mental reactions begin to decline, then 65 becomes the best standard because at that age, the driver can get Social Security and Medicare in addition to any retirement benefits or 401k investments.
The age of 65 is also the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots thanks to a bill signed in February 2007 that raises the mandatory retirement age to 65. Going back to the 1960s, airline pilots became they were forced to retire at age 60 by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Think about it. A pilot flies his plane in the open air, with no other aircraft in sight, is assisted by a co-pilot a seat away and by a controller on the ground, and often flies on autopilot. Yet even with this redundancy and endorsement, the FAA for more than half a decade said it was not safe for a pilot over the age of 60 to continue on the job. He is now considered unsafe at age 65.
So why in the world do we allow truckers to continue driving at 65, 70, 75 and even 80? Truck drivers at high speeds every day must make split-second decisions that require extraordinary fast reaction times. Common sense, if not physical exams, vision and hearing tests, and stress tests, tells us that a 65- to 70-year-old driver is not physically and mentally equipped for this challenge.
If a truck driver makes a mistake, it is very difficult to correct due to the mass and size of the truck. Most truck drivers are good defensive driving drivers who are qualified and trained to be good drivers. But just a single driver error in a lifetime of driving can have tragic results. And as that driver nears the end of his driving career, the chances of a fatal error increasing dramatically.
I can’t rest in peace because I know for sure that before the year is out, someone else will needlessly die somewhere on a road. I am certain of this because federal officials, state and county governments, and law enforcement will not take any action beyond recorded civil and criminal convictions. None of us should be at peace until certain steps are taken. And these actions are: expanding our two-lane highways; adding left turn lanes as needed; strict enforcement to ensure that log books reflect actual driving and rest time; and the establishment of a mandatory retirement for truck drivers at age 65.
Join me in this campaign by writing letters to the Federal Transportation Agency, your state governor, and newspaper and television publishers. Greater public awareness will lead to the changes needed to save thousands of lives. What we say does matter and will count for change.