A recent string of tragic car vs. 18 wheeler tractor trailer truck accidents on Georgia’s Interstate I-16 leave drivers worried and wondering: how can the risk of these fatal accidents be reduced? Short answer: take extra care and caution when driving near tractor trailer trucks, and hope that Governor Deal’s plan to add extra highway enforcement officers helps.
It was national news when five nursing students (one from Alpharetta, Georgia) were killed in one wreck with a tractor trailer, 18 wheeler truck on I-16 in April of this year. On the heels of that wreck was another multi-vehicle wreck with a tractor trailer which killed another five people in May – only 20 miles away from the April accident. Most recently last Friday, three north Georgia residents were killed near Truelen County, Georgia, in another vehicle vs. tractor trailer truck wreck, once again on I-16.
The trucking company, Total Transportation of Mississippi, which was involved in the wreck killing the five nursing students, is reported to have had 85 wrecks all over the country and is considered to be one of the worst trucking companies in the nation with numerous trucking regulation violations. An investigation after the I-16 wreck reported that the truck driver failed to slow his 18 wheeler when traffic slowed on the highway. The driver then hit the nurses’ vehicles from the rear, causing a fiery explosion.
Many truck drivers and truck companies are to blame for causing fatal wrecks but drivers of smaller vehicles should know how to drive defensively around 18 wheeler trucks. These trucks have so much mass that they require extra stopping time and extra space. Drivers of smaller vehicles who don’t give wide berth to tractor trailers are playing Russian roulette. One truck driver writing for Popular Mechanics (a technology magazine) provided some tips on not getting squashed here. Common sense dictates giving a tractor trailer plenty of room. Get out of its way. Don’t ride in the trucker’s blind spot (along the sides) if you can help it. Don’t get in front of a truck down a hill, and so on.
In response to the string of fatal wrecks on I-16, Governor Nathan Deal has proposed increased law enforcement presence on that stretch of highway near where those three accidents took place, as well as additional patroling on high risk highways in the Atlanta area. Once the new officers are in place, Georgia will have approximately 300 commercial truck enforcement officers.
A study published in December of 2014 found at least half of teen driver deaths between 2008 and 2012 occurred in vehicles 11 years or older, and in about a third of those deaths, those vehicles were smaller. The upshot — not a secret — older, smaller cars are generally less safe than newer, bigger vehicles equipped with the latest safety features.
Two Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) researchers studied teen driver deaths reported by the government’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) between 2008 and 2012, finding that nearly half of drivers (48%) 15 to 17 years old who died in car accidents drove cars that were at least 11 years old. 82% of teens killed in car wrecks were in cars that were at least 6 years old. The report also found from a 2014 parent survey that 60% of all teen drivers (ages 15-19) drove vehicles that were over 6 years old. The grim numbers demonstrate the obvious: that teens overwhelmingly drive older, smaller cars.
Unfortunately, many parents have to send their teen drivers out on the roads with hand-me-down cars: older and smaller, less expensive to buy used. Most parents don’t have the resources to provide their teen driver with cars having the newest and latest safety options and equipment. And it takes years for safety equipment to become standard in vehicles such that even older used cars would have those options. Generally, it takes about 30 years between the introduction of a safety feature and when that safety feature is found in 95% or more of the cars on the road.
To help parents, the IIHS compiled a list in July 2014 of recommended used vehicles for teens: affordable used vehicles with important safety features. The IIHS reports that the most important safety features are ESC, a feature used to keep stability on curves and slippery roads, good protection against moderate overlap front crashes (a front crash where a vehicle hits a large wall or object at an offset angle), and side airbags. The IIHS also notes that while bigger is usually better, SUVs and trucks are much more prone to rollover crashes if NOT equipped with ESC and side airbags.
The message? As tough as the economy as been, parents of teens looking for a used vehicle should try to spend just a little more to keep their kids safe with lifesaving safety features. Inexperienced teen drivers tempted and distracted by phones and texting in smaller, older cars will continue to be a deadly combination, but a few safety features available now in used cars can possibly reduce the accident deaths and injuries.