The blame game

| December 12, 2008

While I was driving south on I-20/59 on my way home from Birmingham International Airport, two women in a blue Toyota came to a complete stop in 60 mph traffic in the center lane of the interstate, directly in front of me. I was able to change lanes and avoid a crash, but a glance in the rearview mirror showed her making a 90-degree left turn and zipping onto the I-65 South Exit.

I guess God looks out for drunks and fools because she never knew that the only thing that kept her from meeting her maker was the professionalism of a Mesilla Valley Transportation driver. He was able to slow down enough to avoid driving right over her as she made her last-minute turn onto the exit ramp, and saved at least two lives. The rest of the way home, I kept thinking that if that trucker hadn’t been on his toes, the next day’s headline in the The Birmingham News would have read: “Trucker crushes car, kills two.”

Having witnessed this near-catastrophe, I laughed out loud when I read the conclusion drawn by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study. It found that driver behavior – both car drivers and truckers – caused (or in the case I witnessed, prevented) nearly 90 percent of accidents. (All this time we thought that cars and trucks had it in for each other.) You also won’t be surprised to learn that truckers were less likely to make driving performance errors than were car drivers. And truck performance problems were cited in only 10 percent of the accidents.

That’s a point that should have been of interest to the producers of the tabloid TV news program, “Inside Edition,” which last month aired “Dangerous Trucks,” a segment following Florida commercial vehicle inspectors, who “time after time, found trucks too dangerous to be on the road.” In typical inflammatory style, the show profiles the grief-stricken parents of an 11-year-old girl who died in a car-truck crash.

The segment enraged trucker wife Tara Kottke, who wrote: “There have been many truck drivers who have been hurt or killed in wrecks when it wasn’t their fault. You don’t see their families on television blaming passenger vehicles.”

And I doubt we ever will. Most professional truckers and their families understand the dangers of the road and accept the greater burden they bear for the safety of all motorists. We’ll also never see bad car drivers on TV thanking professional truckers – like the Mesilla Valley driver – for saving them from their own stupidity.

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