Collision avoidance systems make roads safer

The tires screamed and smoked as his brakes squealed, and in a last-ditch desperate move he swung the truck’s right front bumper against a concrete highway barrier bordering the exit ramp. Inches from my back bumper, the semi-trailer truck lurched to a stop. Another foot or two, he would have kicked my car out into heavy traffic moving at 65 mph. Traffic had stalled and the truck waiting too long to begin slowing his rig.

Thus, I took great interest in a Sept. 9 story in The Kansas City Star about forward collision avoidance systems for trucks. Equipment few trucks have. Accessories are available such as radar and camera warning systems that can keep a trucking from crashing into a slowed or stopped vehicle.

Actually, the truck that almost rear-ended me on a highway exit ramp in Wisconsin was too familiar.

It was my third near miss in a year and a half. The first was on an entrance lane in Iowa, the second at an antiquated and steep, uphill ramp onto Interstate 270 in St. Louis. The latter reminded me of some outdated ramps onto Interstate 29.

In all my close calls, there were vehicles in front of mine moving slow or stopped. In the first two cases in Iowa and St. Louis, the truckers had open lanes on the left and plenty of time to see delays developing in the road ahead of them. They took no action until upon me. Horns blared and tires squealed  as they veered around me within a few feet or less, the air wake shaking my vehicle, the situation leaving me shaken.

I believe in all three cases, the trucker was likely looking at a cell phone or some kind of digital device, or numb and near asleep at the wheel. The front-page story in The Star about warning systems is highly worthy. And since Platte County has I-29, Interstate 435, Highway 45 linking to Kansas and St. Joseph, Highway 152, commercial warehouses, a growing highway traffic load, commuter traffic slowdowns or jams, and some aging connections between highways — this topic is relevant to our community.

Now I don’t mean to paint most truck drivers as unsafe or irresponsible. Most are courteous and safe. As a daily commuter in and out of the city, and as a frequent highway traveler, I quite often witness truckers who earn the old salute as Knights of the Highway. I see many more reckless and unsafe car and pickup drivers.

However, I do also see the bumper-riding trucker. More often, I see semi-trailers moving way too fast with a load on in cramped city traffic to be able to stop easily. Stopping is everything in city traffic. Traffic that is rolling at 60 mph can slow to 20 very quickly. In fact, it can go from high speed to dead stop in just a few seconds. And that’s without a wreck, which changes everything quickly.

Then there’s the truth that the safest drivers make mistakes or make the wrong move when the unexpected occurs. The Star’s story led with an example of a careful driver with a spotless safety record who was photographed by an onboard camera looking at a digital device shortly before his big rig slammed into a car stuck in traffic in Indiana, killing three people. An editorial in The Star recounts how at least 300 people are killed and 15,000 people injured each year when semis run into the back of another vehicle. The tally includes eight people killed in such accidents in the Kansas City area since the summer of 2017.

I regret that we’ve failed to build wide-ranging mass transit in the Kansas City metro. Nationwide, also, we’ve swollen the car, pickup and semi-truck traffic on highways far beyond what is comfortable. It took me more than an hour this summer to drive part of loop around Indianapolis, Ind., on their equivalent of I-435. There were no wrecks or construction to slow traffic. It was pure congestion. Regarding more trucks on the highway, I think America will regret not doing more to preserve and expand the railroad industry.

The traffic on Platte County’s main traffic arteries keeps swelling, too. Our county’s population is growing. So is the population everywhere else, and people are driving in a hurry. Truckers have never had so much small-vehicle traffic to contend with.

But as The Star’s story outlines, the trucking industry has not gone for the danger alert safety technology that could sound alarms and prevent many wrecks. Neither has the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated changes. Money and politics are in the way.

As voters, and as attendees at candidate forums, requiring big rigs to have modern safety gear is an issue we can press. Write your elected state and federal representatives about instituting forward collision avoidance systems in semi-trailer trucks. Technology has created progress that can save lives, and we need to use it.

Bill Graham

Bill Graham