Study says truckers need reminder of I-70 driving danger |

Study says truckers need reminder of I-70 driving danger

SUMMIT COUNTY – A Georgia-based truck driver dumps a load of beer careening down the hill from the Eisenhower Tunnel. A City Market truck crashes into an SUV in Tenmile Canyon and plows across the creek. A trucking company records three crashes in three months, resulting in a fish-killing fuel spill, a fire and the death of one driver.

All of these incidents occurred on Interstate 70 in the past 15 months, but a task force formed by state agencies and the trucking industry is hoping to make the mountain corridor safer.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the Colorado State Patrol (CSP), the Federal Motor Carrier Administration’s safety department and the Colorado Motor Carriers Association (CMCA) formed the I-70 Crash Task Force last February in response to an increasing number of truck-related accidents on the highway.

Tuesday, the task force released the results of a study of trucking accidents between 1996 and 2000, as well as strategies each agency will use to reduce accidents in the future.

The study investigated factors that contributed to crashes between Morrison Road just west of Denver and Glenwood Springs – a 141-mile stretch of interstate that saw 810 truck-related accidents in the time period examined.

“The results weren’t really a surprise,” said CSP Capt. Ron Prater, commander of Summit County’s state patrol troop and a participant in the task force. “I think what it comes down to is really a lack of information for drivers that haven’t been through here before.”

The study found that, of the crashes studied, a majority (69 percent) of the trucks involved were out-of-state trucks. No surprise – most of the crashes occurred in the winter months between November and February, the data showed. In addition, drugs and alcohol were not found to be factors, nor was direction of travel. Most crashes happened during daylight on dry pavement, with vehicles traveling in a single lane (as opposed to changing lanes).

The number-crunchers found, however, that 29 percent of the truck crashes involved no other vehicles. These results contradict a belief commonly held in the highway-related industries – and supported by other studies – which puts the blame for truck crashes on nearby passenger vehicle drivers. A 2002 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, for example, found that in truck-car collisions, 80 percent were caused by the car driver. (Although the study acknowledged most of the witness accounts came from police or truck drivers because most passengers in cars in the crashes died.)

“A lot of what this data is showing is that the cause of these truck accidents cannot be attributed to one or two factors,” CDOT regional transportation director Jeff Kullman said.

The task force did identify problem areas, though. Investigators cited the increasing traffic volume on I-70, speeding and noncompliance with chain law as factors, as well as dangerous stretches of highway at Floyd Hill, Vail Pass and the westbound descent from the Eisenhower Tunnel to Silverthorne.

Since taking over Summit County’s CSP post just over a year ago, Prater has stepped up enforcement of chain laws, seat belts and speeding in critical areas such as the tunnel grade and Tenmile Canyon, as other CSP troops have focused resources on dangerous areas.

The task force recommended further enforcement and programs to help reduce crashes. The CMCA will provide training to companies that use the I-70 corridor, including chain law briefings and winter driving techniques. CDOT engineers will add and improve signs along the interstate to warn drivers. The different agencies pledged to work together to increase responses in the event of hazardous materials spills, too.

Bill Copley, an investigator with the Federal Motor Carrier Administration, which conducts compliance reviews of drivers and trucking companies involved in accidents, said the increased attention on highway safety might already be having an effect. Copley cited the decrease in truck-related fatalities in 2002 – 41 people died last year, compared to 93 the previous year.

“But we won’t be able to evaluate the effectiveness of this for a year or two or three,” Copley said. “If the year continues the way it’s started, though, we could see a third of the fatalities we had in 2001, and that would be a great thing.”


Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or

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