A squall is a sudden, sharp increase in wind speed and usually associated with heavy rain showers. Squalls usually last only a few minutes. In the Pacific Northwest, squalls are not an unusual occurrence.
It was late May, near the Washington – Oregon border and a commercial driver trainee was behind the wheel of a big rig. His trainer sat next to him in the passenger seat. Ahead of them were black clouds, and the wind was picking up.
The trainee steered the semi-truck through changing weather conditions. He didn’t slow down or adjust speed for the weather conditions. His trainer gave no instructions.
Other vehicles on the highway, including a pick-up truck carrying a young couple and their two-year-old daughter, slowed down. The trainee stayed at highway speed, despite the increasing wind and rain.
Finally, realizing that he was in a squall, the trainee tried to quickly reduce his speed. His actions caused his trailer to jackknife.
“Jackknife” is the term for a semi-truck trailer coming to an acute angle with the truck cab, like a small folding knife.
Jackknifing is a common outcome when a trucker fails to anticipate wet conditions on the roadway and suddenly brakes.
When semi-truck’s trailer jackknifed, it crossed into another lane – right onto the pick-up truck.
A young couple and their daughter were in the vehicle as the trailer smashed into it and throwing it violently into the guard rail.
The crash caused serious injuries to the child, including a traumatic brain injury.
For a period after the truck crash, she suffered seizure activity and a persistently altered mental state. Over time, and with extensive rehabilitation, she made some progress in recovery. But she was left with cognitive disabilities, and limitations.
This truck crash was absolutely devastating for this young family. While I am proud to say that my work on this case brought them a very fair settlement to provide for their child’s ongoing medical needs, there is no question that this was an entirely preventable tragedy.
Bad weather doesn’t make a truck crash an “accident”
We all know that every driver using a public road or highway has a duty to operate the vehicle safely. Driving safely is more than just keeping all 4 tires on the road. It also means anticipating dangers and be prepared to react.
The standard is higher for professional drivers, like semi-truck drivers—as it should be.
Professional truck drivers who operate large and heavy semi-trucks and trailers must take extra care, given the damage that their vehicles can cause. That is why they are required to take a test for a special license—called a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)—after completing truck driver training. That is why ongoing safety training is a part of a commercial truck driver’s job.
With numerous resources and weather apps available, it is not difficult for commercial drivers to plan for possible hazardous weather conditions that they may encounter in their route. A truck driver – even a trainee – should be prepared for rain and squalls when driving in Oregon and Washington.
In this case, there were multiple failures.
- The trainee failed to anticipate a hazardous weather condition that was obvious.
- The trainer also failed to remind the trainee to check the weather conditions.
- After the rain started, the trainee failed to reduce the speed of the semi-truck.
- The trainer failed to tell the trainee to reduce the speed.
- The trainee failed to move into the slow lane of travel—which, of course, the trainer should have advised.
There was no reason these actions of safety could not have occurred long before confronting the squall. Rectifying any one of these failures could have prevented this tragedy.