Trailer Talk

Crash Argues for Better Impact Guards, and Better Driving

You’d think the woman driving the van would’ve seen the rig sitting there with its tail and marker lights on, and its red-and-white reflectors aglow from her van’s headlights.

August 14, 2015

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The van smacked the parked rig's rear and pushed the trailer's tandem forward. Photo: Tom Berg, image via WCMH-TV
The van smacked the parked rig's rear and pushed the trailer's tandem forward. Photo: Tom Berg, image via WCMH-TV

Early this month a local TV newscast ran a story about a fatal collision in which a minivan ran into a semi. You know who lost: the driver of the van, which rode under the rear of the trailer. She was killed instantly, the story said, and that’s not surprising when you look at the pictures. 

The wreck occurred about 4:15 a.m. on Aug. 4 at a rest area along eastbound I-70 near Buckeye Lake, Ohio, east of Columbus. The 69-year-old woman was heading into the area on the off-ramp when she let her car move onto the shoulder and hit the rear of the parked rig. The truck's 51-year-old driver was in the sleeper berth and was not injured, Lt. Kevin Miller, of the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Granville post, told me.

The truck driver was not cited because “the truck was off to the side and off the pavement,” said Miller, who was on scene after the accident. “He was in the cab, sleeping. I didn’t even present it to the prosecutor.”

It’s common for semis to park on the shoulders of ramps at rest areas, which fill up after dark. Truck drivers need to rest for biological and legal reasons, and rest areas are never large enough to hold all the big rigs.

Is it legal to park on the shoulders? “That’s up for debate,” Miller said. “But there are no signs posted prohibiting parking there, so it’s not illegal.”

You’d think the motorist would’ve seen the rig sitting there with its tail and marker lights on, and its red-and-white reflectors aglow from her van’s headlights. The lieutenant said the cause is still under investigation, “but we believe it was a matter of impairment – drugs or alcohol, or medical.”

In spite of the underride, the van's driver door opened and the motorist removed that way. Photo: Tom Berg, image via WCMH-TV
In spite of the underride, the van's driver door opened and the motorist removed that way. Photo: Tom Berg, image via WCMH-TV

Her van smacked into the semi’s rear and bent the rear-impact guard and plunged under the rear of the grain trailer with enough force to push its tandem forward. The windshield collapsed and the front of the van's roof was torn back, also a result of the impact. The driver’s door still opened, though, and her body was removed that way, Miller said.

I put in a call to the company that owns the trailer, but the manager was out for the day, and I wouldn't be surprised if I don't hear back. Not everyone wants to talk to a news reporter.

These rear-impact accidents don’t happen too often, but when they do they're devastating to a motorist. My best friend in college was killed this way, back in 1973, about eight years after we graduated. So I sympathize with victims and their families. And I nod my head when I hear that federal authorities are talking about requiring advanced rear impact guards that would better absorb crash energy, and maybe save some lives.

But there’s a lot to be said for controlling one’s car so it doesn’t hit a parked semi, or anything else, in the first place. Be careful out there!

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Author Bio

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Tom Berg

Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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