Personal Injury

Investigating single-vehicle truck crashes

A commercial truck driver died after losing control of his big rig on Interstate 5 near Ashland, Oregon. According to a report by The Oregonian, Robert Ormerod, 69, of Shingletown, California, was driving a 2006 Peterbilt tractor trailer for Youngman Trucking of Anderson, California, on the northbound lane when he lost control, skidded across the interstate, and crashed into Bear Creek. Emergency responders pronounced Ormerod dead at the scene. No other injuries were reported.

The Oregonian reported that Ormerod had been hauling a trailer of produce, much of which had poured out of the tractor trailer into the creek. Authorities called in a hazmat team to clean up diesel from the crashed truck that was also spilling into the creek. Police are searching for any witnesses who may help them understand why the crash occurred.

In single-vehicle crashes such as Ormerod’s where neither the driver of the truck nor witnesses are available to help explain the circumstances leading to the crash, local authorities and federal investigators fall back on a number of resources to put the pieces together.

When weather, road conditions, and other drivers aren’t to blame, investigators often turn their focus to the driver’s health and driving record. For instance, sleep apnea, a condition that causes poor sleep quality, is a growing concern to federal regulators and the trucking industry because it leads to driver fatigue, which accounts for up to 40 percent of all commercial vehicle crashes according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records.

Without a proper medical explanation, investigators might check Hours-of-Service data to see if the driver’s schedule abides by federal regulations designed to mitigate driver fatigue. Other possible causes may include cell phone use or another form of distracted driving, such as eating or talking with another vehicle occupant. Together, these distractions account for about 14 percent of single-vehicle commercial truck crashes.

Speeding or driving too fast for road conditions, drifting out of lanes and overcorrecting, are all leading causes of commercial vehicle crashes, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration numbers, accounting for more than 46 percent. Electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs), the “black boxes” that are widely used in commercial vehicles, capture many crash variables, such as speed, hours driven, braking patterns, and even critical vehicular maintenance, which may help law enforcement determine why the truck crashed.

In 2009, 3,215 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes, resulting in 3,619 total fatalities. Incredibly, the number of large trucks involved in crashes resulting in injury dropped 52 percent from 1989 to 2009, while the number of fatal large-truck crashes fell 35 percent.