Late last month, the National Transportation Safety Board held a hearing on its investigation into the truck-involved accident June 26, 2009, in which 10 died and five were injured.
Here’s what the NTSB found.
A minor accident had occurred on Interstate 44 near Miami, Okla., causing a blockage in the left eastbound lane and creating a traffic queue that extended back from the initial accident site approximately 1,500 feet.
At about 1:19 p.m. a big rig driven by Donald L. Creed was traveling in the right lane at about 69 mph (the posted limit was 75 mph).
Creed, 76, did not react to the traffic queue and collided with the rear of a sport utility vehicle, then continued forward and rode over three additional vehicles, pushing the third vehicle into the rear of a livestock trailer being towed by a fourth vehicle.
Creed’s truck came to rest approximately 270 feet past the point where it struck the initial SUV.
The investigation revealed that Creed never braked before hitting the SUV.
Police estimated that Creed should have been able to see the vehicles stopped for the first accident 2,400 feet before he impacted the SUV.
Other than what he said at the accident scene (he asked a witness how the three overridden vehicles got under his truck), Creed has declined to talk with investigators.
The NTSB ruled Creed was fatigued at the time of the accident, even though he was driving legally in terms of Hours of Service.
In fact, according to NTSB, because of treatable medical issues, Creed had driven only seven shifts the month prior to the accident and had been off the three days just prior to the accident, which occurred on a Monday.
The day of the accident he’d started his shift at 3 a.m. per his usual routine.
About the time of the NTSB hearing, there were three other fatal accidents that also involved drivers age 65 or older:
• A big rig driven by a 74-year-old trucker tried to pass a line of cars on U.S. Highway 70 west of Hot Springs, Ark., and crashed head-on into an oncoming car, killing the 37-year-old father of a young child.
• The 66-year-old driver of a tour bus filled with children and their parents was killed when the bus he was driving careened some 45 feet off a sky ramp on the Capital Beltway and stopped on Interstate 270, and
• A 65-year-old trucker died when her rig crashed into a fence in Lake County, Fla., after she began drifting onto the shoulder of the road.
No one can say that these accidents were specifically age-related, but they all point to a need for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to seriously review its rule on medical qualifications for CDL holders.
There currently is no age limit for a CDL holder, who must have a medical exam once every 24 months, unless medical conditions limit his/her medical certificate to a shorter period of time.
On the other hand, to hold a first-class airman’s license a pilot age 40 or younger is required to have an exam every year and pilots 41 and older every six months.
Pilots must retire when they reach age 66.
As a matter of fact, in all of 2009 and through Oct. 6 this year, 49 people had died in commercial airlines crashes in the U.S. while an estimated 8,000 have died in crashes involving large trucks.
We visited recently with the dean of family physicians at a clinic in our hometown about timeliness as it relates to physicals.
How often should a 65-year-old person have a physical, we asked.
“Let’s go back to age 40,” he quickly said. “Once a year is also fine at age 65 unless medical conditions warrant the need for a checkup every six months.”
But he was quick to point out that a CDL holder older than 65 should have a physical every year.
Why once a year?
“So many medical conditions are insidious,” he said. “Many diseases are slow, but progressive; you don’t know where along that line they are going to hit you.”
Reaction time is so critical when operating an 80,000-pound rig and fatigue slows reaction time.
Does fatigue impact us as we age, we asked.
“Big time,” said our physician friend, who has experience giving Department of Transportation physicals. “Age and fatigue slow reaction times.”
Sleep apnea is a big issue among truckers, the physician said, and the lifestyle of a trucker further adds to the problem with weight, dietary and health issues, including high blood pressure and diabetes.
The doctor said the trucking industry should look into requiring every trucker to have a sleep apnea test, which can now be done outside the clinical setting.
We hope the FMCSA will take a fresh look into its regulations for medical certification and tighten the reigns a bit.
There’s a reason the FAA won’t let anyone fly a commercial airliner after age 65.
And while we’re not necessarily advocating a mandatory retirement age for truckers, the current rules are an open invitation for disaster.
Our former pastor used to say this to the congregation when he was about to make a doctrinal point and I say the same thing to the FMCSA: are you listening?
Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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