An accident can happen to anyone at anytime, so it’s important to be prepared.
About 85,000 semi-rigs were involved in accidents during a 33-month stretch between 2001 and 2003, according to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study.
The numbers make a strong argument for drivers to prepare a tool kit of accident aids.
“There should always be an accident kit in your truck,” says owner-operator Chatty Taylor of Huntsville, Texas. “There are all kinds of accidents out there. Sooner or later you or somebody else is going to need it.”
Consider this scenario. It’s nighttime, very dark, and traffic is heavy. There’s construction, no shoulders, no lights, and the get-on ramps have stop signs instead of merge lanes. It’s right-lane only and 50 miles per hour for big trucks. As you pass one ramp, a small pickup runs the stop sign. The impact on the trailer tandems sounds and feels like a bomb blowing the truck in half.
Quickly: do you stop in traffic or keep going to a safe pull-off spot?
“The all-important, zero-dollar part of this whole procedure is the procedure itself,” says Steve McKinzie, president and senior accident reconstructionist at McKinzie & Associates, LLC of Denver. “An accident-response procedure has to be put into motion without thinking. If you don’t do that, you’re being reactive instead of pro-active.”
Learn what to do now; right after the wreck is the wrong time to rehearse.
“Don’t wait until the fox is inside the hen house,” McKinzie says.
“The regulations don’t give specific instructions on what to do in case of a crash,” says Larry Minor, FMCSA director of the office of bus and truck standards and operations. “We rely on the drivers’ professionalism.”
That might mean quick, simultaneous, high-pressure decisions, all with possibly huge consequences.
If the accident is severe, check for injuries or trapped victims in immediate danger.
“You’d be surprised how many times the driver’s first thoughts are for the welfare of the other people in the accidents,” McKinzie says.
Leave most medical care for EMTs, but if crash victims need emergency first aid or rescue from a crashed vehicle, you might be the only one on the scene who can save them.
“I carry a crowbar, a ball peen hammer, pliers, a Phillips screw driver and a claw hammer in case I have to pry somebody out,” says NTE Transportation driver Bryan Eggers, who has 10 years of commercial trucking, was a driver in the military and has completed training for a civilian police assistance group.
Charles Casey, a company driver for Willis Shaw from Bradenton, Fla., keeps a tire billy or hammer to break windows if necessary and a basic first aid kit.
“It has some Band-Aids, iodine, gauze to make bigger Band-Aids and waterproof tape,” he says.
But, Taylor says, “Don’t act like a medical professional unless you’ve had the proper training.”
As for horror stories about good Samaritans helping accident victims and then being sued afterward, McKinzie says not to worry.
“Most states have special laws that exempt drivers from liability if they’re acting in good faith to render first aid,” McKinzie says.