Truckers hauling heavy loads can take a heavy toll on traffic when equipment failures and inattention to detail cause accidents, a string of truck wrecks during the past two weeks shows.
- A driver runs his truck into a bridge deck in Miami County near Troy that’s too low for the height of the truck, shearing off the top of the vehicle.
- On I-675 on the same afternoon, a huge roll of steel falls off a truck because it was not secured properly. Just up the road a trackhoe’s arm snags a bridge beam and the equipment ends up dumped on the highway because the arm was extended too far.
- A tanker truck traveling on I-70 in Clark County has a catastrophic failure and the tank splits in two, spilling an estimated 1,000 gallons of a lubricant on the roadway.
Officials say these types of accidents should be preventable with equipment that’s well maintained, safety inspections and careful route planning — not to mention care in hauling loads.
Truckers are supposed to keep an eye on bridge height restrictions posted on roadway signs and on special maps designed for commercial drivers, but a check of records kept by the Ohio State Highway Patrol shows that since 2009, there have been 425 semi-tractor collisions with overhead bridge structures in Ohio.
Not every crash was because of height restrictions but the statistics show that bridges are a trouble spot.
There were no fatalities, but 13 of the bridge crashes caused injuries and 412 caused property damage. Cuyahoga County topped the list with 49; Franklin was second with 47. Of local counties, Montgomery had 9; Darke and Clark had 1; Butler 7; and Warren 9.
In the same time frame, 28 drivers of commercial vehicles were cited for equipment defects after accidents.
Trucks that haul unusually high loads need permits from the Ohio Department of Transportation. The permits provide a route and detailed information about no-go zones and areas to avoid.
Sometimes, ODOT requires pilot cars to guide a trucker’s way and make sure there are no obstructions.
If truckers cause damage to bridges, they can be held liable, said ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner.
“We have deterrents in place to keep trucks from hitting bridges and endangering motorists,” Faulkner said. “We want to protect our motorists, and obviously equipment failures are bad news.”
Ohio State Patrol Sgt. Jim Slusher of the Xenia Post said the coil of steel that rolled off a truck traveling on southbound Interstate 675 around 4 p.m. Aug. 18 near the Dayton-Yellow Springs exit weighed 52,000 pounds.
It was moving through a construction zone. When it rolled off the truck bed and onto the highway, it scraped a parked Ohio Department of Transportation pick-up, damaging the vehicle. The coil came to rest in a ditch.
That was a lucky break, Slusher said, because a steel coil of that weight could have done a lot more damage if another vehicle had struck it. The semi truck’s cab was damaged but the driver uninjured.
“We could have lost the driver of the semi had this rolled into the passenger compartment, easily crushing him,” Slusher said. “Had there been an occupant of the ODOT vehicle, it could have been serious or fatal. If traffic was in its way, 52,000 pounds of coiled steel would have made short work of a passenger vehicle.”
Investigators later determined the chains securing the coil broke. The driver was cited for failing to have a secure load.
Not two hours later on I-675, the arm of a John Deere trackhoe being hauled by a truck caught on the Bigger Road highway bridge’s metal support beam. The arm hadn’t been lowered sufficiently, Centerville Police determined.
The trackhoe came off the trailer and was dumped on the roadway on its top, said Centerville Police Officer John Davis. It caused a back up of about a mile. Industrial crews on the scene cut up the excavator because of its mangled condition, police said. The driver was cited for not observing the height restriction.
On Aug. 15, the driver of a box truck crashed into the Eldean Road railroad bridge near Troy, shearing off the top of the truck.
The truck, carrying a load of old tires headed for the Miami County Trash Transfer Station on North County Road 25A, needed a clearance of 12 feet, but the bridge only allows clearance of 9-feet and 8-inches.
The underpass height is posted on warning signs and there are lights to alert motorists. The driver told WHIO-TV reporter Steve Baker that he was following directions from his GPS, which indicated the route would be faster that took him east through the underpass.
The Miami County Sheriff’s Office cited him for failure to obey a warning device.
The last in the string of truck mishaps occurred Aug. 19 when a tanker truck traveling from Pennsylvania to Tipp City on I-70 in Clark County crashed when the structure of the vehicle collapsed.
Workers were dispatched to clean up an estimated 1,000 gallons of a lubricant that spilled on I-70. Crews with the Ohio EPA, the Ohio Department of Transportation and troopers with the Springfield post of the Ohio Highway Patrol were dispatched. There were no reports of injuries.
Larry Woolum, Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Ohio Trucking Association, said that while truckers deserve the benefit of the doubt, they must maintain careful inspections of their vehicles and closely follow commercial routing maps.
“Without looking at each individual crash, I would be reluctant to make a comment of who’s at fault,” he added.
Drivers of passenger vehicles are well advised to follow basic safety precautions as well, he said, including never lingering in a truck driver’s blind spots as indicated by not being able to see the driver’s face in the side mirrors and keeping a safe distance.
“The very few seconds it takes to pay attention or give a trailer added distance certainly is a small sacrifice for a safe trip and to avoid any type of situation,” Woolum said.