Sharing the road with large trucks, dangers persist

On Sept. 29 at 5:30 a.m., northbound I-75 at Mitchell Avenue was shut down for six hours.
          
The traffic congestion pales in comparison to the price Darrell Byrd continues to pay. Byrd's son Zachary, just 21 years old, was killed after a semi hit the car he was riding in.  Zachary's brother-in-law, who was driving the car, remains in the hospital.
          
"Pretty much just miss Zach, you know? Every day we go see Jimmy. He's out of the coma but still not in good shape at all," Byrd said.
          
Both were on their way home from work at the post office in downtown Cincinnati. A job Byrd says he helped both of them get. 

"They were making $8.50 an hour and this is a much better job. So we got them on (to the post office) and they were making a little over $14 an hour. They were really happy,” he said
          

The accident ended that happiness. It turns out, the Byrd family's situation, though declining nationally, still happens quite often in the region.
          
According to the latest numbers released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Ohio ranked 10th and Indiana 6th for fatal crashes involving large trucks. Kentucky is not far behind, ranked 16th. IIHCS rankings were based on 2011 data, the latest information released by the federal government that collects those numbers.

IIHS’s website defines a large truck as a vehicle weighing more than 10,000 pounds. That classification includes everything from a GMC Sierra 1500, Ford F-250, cargo vans, ambulances and semi-trucks.

In total, 500 deaths involving large trucks occurred in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky in 2011. The three-state region made up nearly 15 percent of the 3,372 deaths involving large trucks in the United States that year.

2011’s numbers were down from 563 deaths in the three states reported in 2010 and were part of a national trend that saw a 12 percent decrease in large truck fatalities between 2008-2011 nationwide, as IIHS data reflects.

And what may be surprising to some, semi-trucks make up a small percentage of large truck deaths in the Tri-State versus the total number of 500 large truck deaths in Ohio-Indiana-Kentucky.

There were four semi-truck related deaths in Ohio counties and two in Indiana counties in the Tri-State for 2011, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB is the federal agency that tracks all large truck fatal incidents. Northern Kentucky reported zero deaths in 2011.

Compared to the three state numbers, local semi crashes contributed to .012 percent of the 2011 total. Over a five year period, from 2007 to 2011, analysis of NTSB data shows semis were involved in 47 fatalities in the Tri-State.

In addition, 2009 saw the lowest number of large truck involved fatalities with 2,223 deaths since the federal government started collecting that data in 1975. A precipitous decline in large truck deaths nationwide began in 2005.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report in 2011 outlining why traffic deaths were declining across the United States.

"The latest numbers show how the tireless work of our safety agencies and partners, coupled with significant advances in technology and continued public education, can really make a difference on our roadways," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to build on this progress by continuing to tackle head-on issues like seat belt use, drunk driving and driver distraction."

In order to decrease large truck involved fatality numbers further, one local large truck driving expert explained what he does, and believes needs to be done, to decrease those traffic numbers further, especially involving those large trucks that weigh in at more than 26,001 lbs.

Safety And Awareness As A Solution
          
Eddie Mullins drove a semi for 15 years and now, trains CDL trainers. He oversees 200 to 400 new drivers each year that drive those big trucks.

"We start with safety from the first step through the door, to the last step out of the door, in all areas," Mullins said.
          
At Southern State Community College and several satellite campuses, Mullins teaches the basics like 'get the big picture, keep your eyes moving and make sure they see you.'

"If you can't see my mirrors, I definitely can't see you," said Mullins.
          
I-75, I-71, and I-71/75 are some of the busiest interstates in the country. While Mullins says the reasons behind these accidents are too many to list, research from the Traffic Highway Safety Administration suggests many accidents start with a car or semi swerving. Mullins adds there are trouble areas specific to the Tri-State.

"Like the Cut-in-the-Hill and the tunnel. They give drivers... you come into it with a false sense of security."
          
Darrell says at this point all he can do is remember and cherish the memories of Zachary. "When we would fly somewhere, I would have to get him to quit talking to whoever he was talking

to because he would just drive them crazy."

Look at the map below for a breakdown of each fatal Tri-State accident involving semis over the past 5 years.

In general, drivers should be aware of everything while on the road, not just limited to big trucks. Here are some safety tips, according to the experts at Southern State Community College.

1. Aim high in steering (meaning look down the road, not just in front of you.)
2. Get the big picture (be aware of your surroundings.)
3. Keep your eyes moving (know where other cars are.)
4. Leave yourself an out (If something happens, know where you can go/what you can do to avoid an accident.)
5. Make sure they see you (make sure other drivers are aware of where you are.)

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