Picture the scene in a small West Texas town after its small high school’s football team had just won a big playoff game. The mood was celebratory — until the worst tragedy imaginable happened. An 18-wheeler crashed head-on into a bus bringing the school’s cheerleaders home. The sponsor was killed and another adult and seven students sustained severe injuries. It was a Friday Night Lights nightmare.
The heartbreak and injuries from a truck or auto accident can be devastating. Then there are vexing questions for the injured persons, including who is at fault and who will pay for their medical bills, lost wages and damages. And how can we stop this from happening again so others are not injured or killed?
Here, could a median barrier have prevented the head-on collision, not to mention countless others?
Investigators don’t have answers yet. We do know that rain affected visibility and the wet pavement was slick.
The truck driver said a car had braked ahead and that he tried to avoid a collision. What caused the automobile driver to slam on his brakes?
That’s when the 18-wheeler lost control and jumped the median into oncoming traffic.
Also, the young ladies were described as having slid under the seats and in the aisle, one atop the other. Possibly, seat belts could have restrained them, but there were none.
There are several layers of liability here that will have to be determined by a judge and jury.
First, the car driver had an obligation to slow down to accommodate the dangerous roadway conditions.
Second, the 18-wheeler driver had a professional duty to pay closer attention, slow down, and maintain control of his rig. Under Section 392.14 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations, he was required to exercise “extreme caution” when the weather conditions became hazardous. The regulations require truck drivers to reduce their speed by one-third when roads are wet. Note that a two axle tractor-trailer traveling at 60 MPH requires up to 267 feet— almost three football fields — to come to a stop with average brakes and tire treads on DRY roads.
Further, the school did not provide a safe van with seat belts for the students.
And how was the 18-wheeler was able to cross the median into oncoming traffic.
For more information about this heart-breaking collision, read this article in the New York Times.
We’ve been here so many times before. A truck or car jumps the median and plows into oncoming traffic at full speed. On Texas rural roads and outdated highways, this scenario occurs much too frequently.
Head-on collisions accounted for just 2 percent of all traffic accidents, but caused 10 percent of traffic related deaths. Those who survive often suffer life-altering permanent injuries.
This is a dangerous scenario that can — and should — be avoided by using updated median barrier technology.
On two and four lane highways, vehicles pass at high speed in the opposite directions fairly close to each other. This system may work under perfect conditions, when the roads are dry, there are no sudden roadblocks, such as an animal or a disabled car, and everyone is paying attention and driving carefully.
But change any one of those factors and these roadways are a disaster in waiting. Median barriers are not foolproof, but they add a vital layer of protection for motorists. So, why hasn’t Texas installed barriers on such exposed roads as I-20?
The Texas Department of Transportation earmarked $1.2 billion to a safety initiatives program that included installing cable barriers. The barriers are designed so that the vehicle bounces off the cable rather than plowing into opposite travelling traffic. Not only does this prevent a head-on collision, but the cable barriers soften the force of impact to the occupants of the out of control vehicle.
Oklahoma finally installed this important line of protection on I-35 — sadly, too late. Oklahoma took action only after four members of the North Central Texas College girl’s softball team were killed by an 18-wheeler that jumped the median and hit their van head-on.
Let’s not wait for yet another tragedy to get the barriers installed.