Investigators continue to look for clues as they try to understand why a FedEx truck crossed the median on a California highway and slammed head-on into a tour bus. This is the kind of tragedy the National Transportation Safety Board investigates. When the board has completed its work, it will issue a final report; if warranted, it will also issue safety recommendations for the trucking industry or any other stakeholders.
We have been discussing an NTSB report on trucking safety that is the product of research and past accident investigations. The board sent the report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a week or so before this accident; until the investigation is completed, though, there is no reason to believe that any of the proposed safety rules would have changed the outcome. That is not to say that they couldn't save lives in the future.
First on the board's list of issues in trucking safety are blind spots. Passenger vehicles have blind spots, of course -- that's why parents exhort their children to turn their heads to look before changing lanes; relying on their mirrors is not enough. The board found that the design and configuration of tractor-trailers results in blind spots in front, on both sides and in the rear of the rig. Those blind spots, though, are much bigger than a passenger vehicle's.
A tractor-trailer has something your average sedan does not have: height. The driver is much higher off the road, and that means that the driver's field of vision is significantly limited. He or she cannot see anything below a certain height, and that area is large enough to hide a car, a pedestrian or a biker. And, just as mirrors don't solve the problem completely in passenger vehicles, mirrors do not compensate for a major portion of a tractor-trailer's blind spots.
We'll continue this next week.
Source: The Trucker, "NTSB offers 7 recommendations to improve truck safety," The Trucker News Services, April 4, 2014