Back-Seat Driver

Big rig crashes highlight concerns

Tow truck operators remove a big rig that plowed through several vehicles during a huge crash on westbound Interstate 80 on June 16, 2015, in West Sacramento.
Tow truck operators remove a big rig that plowed through several vehicles during a huge crash on westbound Interstate 80 on June 16, 2015, in West Sacramento.

Commercial trucks serve a key economic role, bringing us the goods we buy at the supermarket and mall. But as the economy improves, truck traffic increases, and that can be a scary thing on the highway.

A series of big rig crashes on I-80 in the mountains last week, including one involving five trucks, highlights some stark facts. Tractor-trailers are behemoths. And they are hard to stop. They can weigh 76,000 pounds. Compare that to your average car at about 4,000 pounds.

The California Highway Patrol reported four rigs had overturned in crashes during a rainy 24-hour period on I-80 in the mountains last week. But those were just a prelude to a chain-reaction crash Thursday morning on eastbound I-80 on the downhill from Donner Summit:

A big rig slid into an embankment, apparently causing its trailer to dislodge and slam into another tractor-trailer. The first rig caught fire. The crash caused traffic to come to a stop long enough for another big rig to come around that sweeping left turn and run into two other commercial trucks as well as a car.

The driver of the initial truck was seriously injured and flown to a hospital, according to the CHP. Two other drivers complained of minor pain.

Notably, all of that happened in the rain or on slick pavement. Winter is arriving.

CHP Officer Pete Mann offered a few safety suggestions for car drivers sharing the highway with trucks:

▪ Don’t linger in a trucker’s blind spots. When passing big trucks, do it, as Mann says, “expeditiously.”

▪ Don’t drive too closely behind a truck. You won’t be able to see what’s happening on the road ahead and won’t be able to react quickly to it slowing or braking ahead.

▪ Don’t pull right in front of a truck. Give them breathing room.

I-5: Big rig parking lot

We wrote recently about Uber drivers parking in a field south of the airport because they aren’t allowed on airport grounds while they wait for a pick-up call.

There is another impromptu parking lot near the airport; this is an illegal one on the freeway shoulder. For years, some commercial truck drivers have used an extra-wide section of Interstate 5 shoulder under the Highway 99 interchange as a spot to get some sleep during the night.

We recently saw about a dozen trucks in a line there at 5 a.m. A trucker we talked to said most of them probably came through too late in the night to get a parking spot at the Sacramento 49er Travel Plaza, about 3 miles away. The 49er truck spot charges only $12 but has limited spaces and fills up.

CHP Lt. David Ricks said officers sometime knock on doors and tell them to move along. But, frankly, officers have other, higher priorities.

Ricks said the CHP is talking with Caltrans about putting up a sign telling truckers not to park there. Where will they go? There appears to be a lack of legitimate spots in the immediate Sacramento area.

Caltrans’ Dennis Keaton points out: No one wants a drowsy truck driver on the road.