On June 26, 2009, there was a catastrophic collision on Will Rogers Turnpike in Oklahoma when an 18 wheeler driven by a 76 year old driver who was fatigued rear-ended at 70 mph several cars, killing 10 people and seriously injuring another. The trucking company allowed the 76 year old driver, who had been off work for 3 weeks for medical issues with his heart, to drive a full shift on his first day back to work. The driver started his shift at 3:00 am, and the collision took place at 1:16 pm with the cruise control still set at 70 mph.
A jury was about to be selected for a jury trial this week in Oklahoma when the case settled for over $62,000,000.00. Although liability was admitted, punitive damages was still an issue based on the Plaintiffs’ allegation that the trucking company should never have allowed a 76 year old driver who had been off for 3 weeks for medical issues with his heart be allowed to drive a full shift on his first day back to work.
After this horrible collision took place, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) did an investigation and had made many "recommendations" to make our roads safer, including:
1. requiring all motor carriers to adopt a fatigue management program,
2. requiring all heavy commercial vehicles to be equipped with video event recorders, and
3. requiring the use of data recorders on large trucks.
In addition, as a result of its investigation of the Oklahoma crash, the NTSB also felt the need to reiterate several previously issued recommendations.
NTSB board members clearly were frustrated over what appears to be a lack of response from other federal agencies. NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said the Oklahoma crash points out the need for important actions by federal regulators that "would go a long way to reducing this type of accident on our roadways… As we discussed today, if we are serious about improving safety, we have to be proactive. This means doing what we can to prevent the accident." Unfortunately, Hersman said, many of the recommendations from the NTSB are not new. "It’s time to stop discussing them and make them a reality," she said.
Even without actions by federal regulators to make the roads safer, the attorney for the trucking company advised the jury (before it was announced that the case settled for over $62,000,000.00) that the trucking company has re-examined its driver training and safety programs. "The message from what happened in this is loud and clear… I am aware that (the trucking company has) made changes. We are paying closer attention to fatigue when it comes to driving."
Since 18 wheelers can easily weigh 40 tons, it is critical that truck drivers not be fatigued while driving, or else catastrophes like what happened in Oklahoma could happen anywhere. If trucking companies refuse to be sure their drivers are clear-headed and not fatigued, large settlements like this perhaps will send a message to have better policies in place to keep our roads safe, regardless if the NTSB ever makes "suggestions" into reality.