ATS Transportation Blog

Our Goal is Zero: Protect Life at All Costs

For the past four decades in the United States, nearly 5,000 people have died each year in crashes involving commercial trucks and commercial truck Drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI). These deaths average out to 13.3 people every day.

‘Girl dies, two others in critical condition after semi-truck crashes into car in Mentor’
Mentor, Ohio (1/25/19)

‘Semi-truck driver killed in crash on I-55’
Chicago, Illinois (1/23/19)

‘Infant killed in wreck on SR 40 east of Ocala’
Ocala, Florida (2/1/19)

A search on Google News and an endless list of news stories tell of fatal crashes in places like Texas, Colorado and New York, involving the deaths of young children, mothers, families and solo truck Drivers. These crashes leave behind a wake of destruction and injury from which the people involved never heal.

We cannot accept these deaths. This catastrophic loss of life is not a cost of doing business. As an industry, we need to work toward a goal of zero deaths on our highways — and ultimately zero incidents at all.

Though we are seeing positive trends in the most severe accident categories, we have to keep in mind our goal is zero. We need to remind ourselves though we have left the highways or city streets and entered a shipper’s or receiver’s yard or a truck stop, the risk to major accidents may have decreased, but the risk to minor accidents has increased.

When we look at accident frequency, many are occurring while backing, turning or maneuvering. We are hitting fixed objects such as signposts, boulders, high curbs, posts, vehicles in adjacent lanes and parked trucks in truck stops.

Here are three tips to reach our goal of zero:

Tip #1: G.O.A.L. (Get Out and Look)
The best way to avoid a backing accident is to get out and look. As you back your tractor and trailer, visibility is a challenge. In these accidents, we are hitting low fixed objects, objects behind the trailer that are lurking in our blind spots and trucks in parking stalls on our blind side. Get out and look behind your trailer for hazards, plan your path and plan where you will stop. If you are unsure about your clearance, stop and get out and look again.

There is no prize for being able to back into a spot without stopping or getting out, but there are consequences for hitting something. Take the guesswork out of backing, practice G.O.A.L. Get out and look.

Tip #2: Take wide turns
In the turning accidents occurring, we are striking fixed objects with our trailers as they off-track behind the tractor. These objects are on the inside radius of our turns: curbs, grass, street signs and landscaping.

Yes, we are asked to bring trucks into locations not designed to handle them. Being able to make that smooth, easy turn is often the exception, not the rule. In these situations, plan for wide turns and wait for traffic to clear to enable you to take the room you need to make the turn. Square off your turns. Take the truck straight forward past your turn while watching the trailer to make sure it has clearance to avoid hazards on the inside of the turn. Then make the turn, ensuring the trailer has the room to off-track into the lane you’re turning into. This technique is also known as, “Out straight, turn late.”

If you have to leave the roadway to get in, drive past the turn, stop and look for an alternative way into the location or ask for help from the shipper or receiver.

Tip #3: Close-quarter maneuvering
Most of these accidents have occurred at truck stops, fuel islands and loading docks. We are seeing Drivers striking parked vehicles as they maneuver out of parking spots, in congested lanes and pulling away from loading docks. The accidents are the result of turning and the rear of the trailer striking the object or vehicle on the outside radius of the turn.

The amount the rear of the trailer swings wide in a turn can be different based upon the trailer’s setup. With a van trailer, for example, the position of the trailer axles, if they are all the way to the rear, all the way forward or somewhere in between, makes a big difference.

To avoid these accidents, know what the rear of your trailer is going to do before moving, plan the straightest route possible through the congestion and, when pulling out of parking stalls, pull as far forward as possible before beginning your turn to clear the hazards around you before the rear of the trailer swings and becomes a hazard. Remember, “Out straight, turn late.”

Nathaniel Leis

Written by Nathaniel Leis

Nathaniel has spent 15 years in the transportation industry with roles in operational management, labor management, facility and corporate safety and contractor management. He specialized in OSHA, FRA and FMCSA regulatory compliance for companies with offerings in rail transportation, rail equipment maintenance, intermodal transportation, specialized flatbed and van service. He Joined ATS in 2018 as the Director of Safety.

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