Driving - and surviving - on truckheavy highways and interstates

David Rodriguez, above, of Fontana, Calif., washes the windows Tuesday on his Volvo at the Flying J Travel Center off East Andy Devine and Armour avenues.

Photo by Bob Leal.

David Rodriguez, above, of Fontana, Calif., washes the windows Tuesday on his Volvo at the Flying J Travel Center off East Andy Devine and Armour avenues.

KINGMAN – With Interstate 40 cutting through the city with an abundance of commercial vehicles, driving in the area could be a precarious endeavor if it wasn’t for the efforts of the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s Highway Patrol Division.

One could say they are trying to tame a beast of an interstate, one of the major east-west thoroughfares in the United States and the third longest at around 2,500 miles, 360 of which are in Arizona.

From Oct. 1 of 2015 to Sept. 30, there were 119 accidents in Mohave County where drivers of commercial vehicles were at fault, according to Capt. Brian Preston, commander of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement division.

During that same time period, Interstate 40 experienced 71 collisions involving commercial vehicles that were responsible, Highway 93 had 30 and Interstate 15 recorded 10, said Preston. In all, there were 271 commercial vehicles involved in accidents in the county, said Preston.

In Arizona, commercial vehicle drivers involved in accidents were at fault 52 percent of the time, said Preston. Those numbers mirror the average in the United States. He said “sharing the road” is a big key, both for commercial vehicles and passenger cars and trucks.

Safety inspections

The Highway Patrol doesn’t just let commercial vehicles roll down the freeways without a safety inspection force waiting in the wings to ensure the public’s safety.

The federal government sets the regulations while Arizona adopts and enforces them, said Preston.

There are three distinct types of commercial vehicles that are regulated. The first are cargo carriers, the second are vehicles carrying hazardous material over a certain weight threshold, and the third are for-hire passenger carriers such as tour buses, said Preston.

While the Highway Patrol will pull over commercial vehicles that pose a safety threat, Preston said his group has to pick its spots when conducting planned safety checks due to, well, safety concerns.

Preston was up in the Grand Canyon area Monday, performing safety checks on passenger carrier vehicles like tour buses. He said they don’t like to hold a bus up when it is loaded with passengers. But when the passengers debus, his crew gets to work.

On Sept. 13, as part of Operation Airbrake – Brake Safety Week, 175 commercial vehicles were inspected by the Highway Patrol during a special enforcement detail off Interstate 40 at the eastbound Parks Rest Area at milepost 182 between Williams and Flagstaff.

The mandatory inspection involved specially trained troopers examining the brake assembly on all commercial vehicles.

The results included:

• 450 commercial vehicle regulation violations

• 130 brake violations

• 19 drivers placed out of service

• 28 commercial vehicles placed out of service

On Sept. 14, voluntary inspections took place at the Pilot Truck Stop in Belmont and at the Little America Truck Stop in Flagstaff. Thirty-five fleet safety managers and technicians attended.

Results from the 2006 U.S. Department of Transportation’s Large Truck Crash Causation study indicated that problems with brakes were a factor in nearly 30 percent of all commercial crashes that were investigated.

“We are very pleased with the results of our Operation Airbrake – Brake Safety Week initiatives, and greatly appreciate the work of our troopers and our partners in the trucking industry in making it a success,” said Preston.

Facts about crashes:

• In nine out of 10 fatal crashes between cars and trucks, the occupants of the car are killed.

• The car driver is cited about twice as often as the truck driver for reckless behavior in crashes involving large trucks.

• In almost two/thirds of fatal crashes, the impact points are at the front of the truck, suggesting that most fatal crashes are within the forward field of view of the truck driver.

How to be safe

When driving around commercial vehicles, Preston says it’s imperative to stay out of blind spots, called “no zones,” which are areas that the commercial vehicle driver can’t see you.

A key is to allow a buffer when driving in front and in back of commercial vehicles. And if you find yourself driving on their side, speed up or fall back. Do not linger on the side of the vehicle. Another thing to remember: If you can’t see the driver’s face in the mirror, he can’t see you.

Many of the accidents involve lane changes. Commercial drivers just can’t see other passenger vehicles in many instances, said Preston.

During these incidents, the commercial drivers get cited, but nobody wins in an accident.

“If you’re going to operate around a commercial vehicle, understand that is very different than a car that you are used to.

“Blind spots on a commercial vehicle are tremendous,” said Preston. “It’s a different animal,” said Preston, who explained that big rigs have an 80,000-pound maximum weight limit in Arizona.

They can’t stop as fast nor can they maneuver like passenger vehicles.