On the Road

When Trucks Go Crash in the Night

January 6, 2011

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It was a fairly minor crash, as these things go. Three trucks involved, no one seriously hurt. No motorists involved except those inconvenienced by the closing of the highway. The incident appears to be related to the twin evils of fatigued driving and the shortage of parking places.
The badly damaged trailer had to be dismantled before it could be removed from the scene. (Photo by ABC News27 WHTM)
The badly damaged trailer had to be dismantled before it could be removed from the scene. (Photo by ABC News27 WHTM)

Some time in the wee hours of the morning, Jan. 5, the driver of a truck traveling northbound on Pennsylvania's I-81 struck two other trucks parked alongside the highway near Newville (between Shippensburg and Carlisle). The driver glanced off one parked truck, and drove smack dab into the back of a second truck. Judging by the photos of the wreckage, it was traveling at a good clip. According to the TV news report, the two parked trucks were part of the "overflow" from a nearby rest area. The drivers of the two parked trucks were reportedly asleep at the time.

The crash truck had apparently been wobbling its way north on I-81 from as far south as Hagerstown. A witness, speaking on camera, said he and another driver had noticed it weaving along the road, and straying through the curves for some time prior to the crash.

"We were talking on the CB, saying, 'Look at this guy. He's swerving all over.' The guy behind me said he's lucky he only goes 62 miles per hour so he doesn't have to be near him. I stayed away from him. He would speed up and slow down. Around bends, he had trouble negotiating turns. We joked [a crash] was just a matter of time," he said.

So here we have an apparently very tired driver (my assertion, not proven but assumed based on the remarks of the witness) weaving his way up the road, striking two trucks parked on the shoulder of an interstate highway. Why, I ask, was the guy driving in a fatigued state (if that was in fact the case), and why were those other trucks parked along side the highway?

I'm not condoning the practice of parking alongside busy Interstates, but there is literally no place else to go. There's a rest area a couple of miles north of exit 37 at Newville; perhaps the driver was heading there for a little shut-eye. The other drivers, the parked drivers, were probably doing the same, and found the place full. The conundrum is, if the first two had continued north, they may have found themselves like the third -- sleepy and weaving their way up the road until fate intervened or they found somewhere else to pull over.

We have heard about cases where cars have run onto the backs of parked trucks, sued, and won on grounds that the truck (in one case, broken down and unable to move) should not have been parked on the shoulder of an Interstate. It will be interesting to see how the carriers involved sort this one out.

A tired truck driver (again, my assumption) strikes an illegally parked truck. If fatigue can be proven, that guy's toast. That the other trucks were improperly and illegally parked is undeniable. Who is guiltier?

More importantly, when will our regulators wake up and smell the coffee on the parking issue? The consequences of this incident were minor. It barely made the local TV news, and few of the news wires picked it up. But the outcome could have been much different.

Everybody is all gung-ho to attack distracted driving and legislate speed limiters for trucks in the name of highway safety, but who is looking out for the interests of the men and women who drive at night -- when fatigue is more prevalent -- and there are too few safe places to park for a brief rest?

CBS News 21 has some video of the crash scene and a report from the site, filmed about 3 hours after the crash occurred.


  1. 1. Eric J Foster [ January 07, 2011 @ 06:24PM ]

    Yet another reason why many of the current and even more strict proposed rules for HOS aren't a cure all. If you have a driver without good sense enough to pull over in rest, NO law is a fix. You can't legislate smarts.

    I'm curious why you didn't address the fact that there are far less rest areas on our highways due to budget shortfalls, and many of these "closed" rest areas are now being utilized as weigh stations instead. I can't help but to wonder if the purpose of these check points isn't just about safety, but job justification and revenue also. More rest areas would result in less congestion of the remaining ones. The loss of these rest areas (at least 6 just in Maine) also mean a longer drive for a fatigued or ill driver to find a safe haven. Nothing like aggravating an already serious issue.


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Author Bio

Jim Park

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Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.


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