Devastating Kentucky 18-wheeler accident raises saftey concerns

posted on:
March 30, 2010

author:
KURT NILAND

Several traffic safety concerns have been triggered in the wake of an accident on a stretch of I-65 in Kentucky that claimed the lives of 11 people – an accident that authorities say is one of the worst traffic accidents in the state’s history.

The accident occurred when a commercial truck driven by 45-year-old Kenneth Laymon of Alabama left the interstate, plowed through a cable barrier, and struck a van head-on, killing the truck driver and ten people in the van. Two children who were secured in safety seats inside the van survived.

The occupants of the van were a group of Mennonites traveling to Iowa to attend a wedding.

Laymon’s sister, Lori Cook, has been defending her deceased brother against verbal attacks since the story broke, saying that he was a responsible driver with 26 years of driving experience. Cook said that her brother knew and respected the rules of the road and taught other drivers how to do the same.

Authorities say that the accident occurred on a particularly dangerous stretch of I-65 near Munford, about 35 miles south of Louisville. That span of interstate narrows to two lanes in each direction. Many requests have been made to widen the interstate from Elizabethtown to Bowling Green but the proposed project has gone unfunded despite the unusually high number of accidents that happen there.

Cable barriers were installed in the median where the accident occurred, but they were not enough to stop the truck from crashing into other traffic. Cable barriers are highly effective in preventing crossover crashes from occurring on interstates, and they are commonly used in states where snow and ice can make the interstates slick.

According to WHAS 11 News of Louisville, the Kentucky Transportation Department says that it uses “the strongest cable barriers possible, designed to stop cars, vans, and some trucks” from crossing over in the opposite lane.

But those barriers weren’t enough to stop Laymon’s semi, which was fully loaded with brake drums. Although the truck wasn’t reported to be overly laden at the time of the accident, commercial vehicle weight restrictions have been a source of contention between the auto industry, which generally wants drivers to be able to carry heavier loads, and safety advocates who warn that heavier trucks could lead to more accidents and higher fatalities.

Federal regulations stipulate the gross vehicle weight be no more than 80,000 pounds or 20,000 pound load for a single axle truck and 34,000 pounds for tandem axle.

Investigators do not yet know why Laymon lost control of the truck, but two of the most common causes of commercial truck accidents are driver fatigue and distracted driving. Both are being investigated as possible causes in Laymon’s case.

To help cut back on the number of truckers who fall asleep at the wheel, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration mandates strict Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulations that establish how long a truck driver may stay behind the wheel before resting, and how long a driver must rest before hitting the road again.

In January, the Transportation Department announced a ban on texting while driving for all commercial vehicle drivers. The new rule grew out of the federal government’s effort to reduce the number of people killed and injured in accidents caused by distracted drivers. Commercial truck drivers who text while driving can face civil or criminal charges and fines of up to $2,750.

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