Sharing the road with 18-wheelers is usually a safe thing to do. The drivers of these massive rigs are highly trained and careful with the cargo entrusted to them. Unfortunately, there can be hazards on the road that even the best semi driver can’t avoid. Those hazards can come from equipment failures, other drivers, or even the design of the road itself. In Atlanta, for example, there’s an interstate off-ramp that has a sharp curve. It’s the most dangerous of the “hot zones” in the country for truck drivers.
It’s not the only exit ramp or stretch of road that’s dangerous for truck drivers, though. Each year, hundreds of semi drivers die due to rollover accidents and other types of crashes. Sometimes, the drivers in smaller vehicles around them are also victims because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s an unfortunate by-product of antiquated road systems that were not designed for the level of semi traffic they’re currently home to. Most of the highway system that runs throughout the US today was designed back in the 1950s.
When the highway system was created, there was plenty of space on the road for both smaller vehicles and semis to share without overcrowding. Over time, though, the level of traffic increased a great deal, but few changes were made to the highways themselves. Because of that, the congestion on the roads has continued to increase, making it more and more dangerous for semi drivers. The most serious accident for truck drivers is the rollover. The percentage of these is low, but they account for half of the driver and other occupant deaths because of their violent nature.
More than 2.6 million people in the United States drive trucks that weigh over 10,000 pounds in the course of their job duties. Their leading cause of death on the job is crashes. Over 300 are killed and 3,000 are injured (when considering both drivers and occupants) each year. Drivers who are distracted, sleepy, or just plain overworked can be the cause of rollovers, but the outdated highway system and growing level of traffic congestion are also to blame. Truck freight continues to rise every year, in line with consumer spending, so the roads will only get more dangerous.
The problem is one of infrastructure and money. The curves built into highway exit ramps over 40 years ago are not designed to handle the trucks of today. They are too steep with not enough banking, and the line of sight is often obscured, making it difficult to see what’s coming up. They also lack lights and signs to warn drivers about rollover risk. But fixing the problem would cost billions of dollars the country simply doesn’t have. Until a solution that is affordable can be found, semi drivers will continue to be in danger from the very roads on which they make their living.