A tractor-trailer driver who ignored two lane closure warnings is being blamed for a wreck in Southampton county, Virginia (VA), that sent three VDOT workers to hospitals with serious injuries. The three-vehicle collision happened near the intersection of U.S. 58/Southampton Parkway and State Rout 718/Arringdale Road on the morning of January 31, 2018.
According to Virginia State Police who responded to the incident outside of Drewryville just before 9:40 am, the semi operator had passed one VDOT truck displaying a sign reading “ROAD WORK AHEAD RIGHT LANE CLOSED” before looking down at a handheld electronic device and moving into the right-hand lane of U.S. 58.
By the time the commercial truck driver looked up, it was too late to avoid rear-ending a second VDOT vehicle, which was also carrying a flashing sign warning about road work and the need to keep left. The collision knocked the VDOT truck forward into a third work vehicle.
One of the VDOT drivers suffered severe injuries and needed to be flown to Richmond by helicopter for treatment. Two other road crew members received treatment for their injuries at a local hospital.
Troopers filed an initial charge of reckless driving against the tractor-trailer operator. This is a general charge that indicates the truck driver was operating “in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.”
The real problem appears to be driver distraction. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which enforces regulations for commercial trucks that cross state lines and provides the model for Virginia’s trucking rules, has adopted numerous rules to reduce distracted driving.
On its website, the FMCSA notes that “recent research shows that the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event (e.g., crash, near-crash, unintentional lane deviation) are 23.2 times greater for [commercial] drivers who text while driving than for those who do not. Texting drivers took their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, this equates to a driver traveling the approximate length of a football field.”
The agency also recently highlighted rules that prohibit “manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device.” The actions covered by that ban include texting, typing and reading emails, instant messaging and typing in web searches. Another rule makes it a sanctionable offense to even reach for or hold a mobile phone.
My Virginia personal injury law firm colleagues and I have often called attention to the state law that requires all drivers to move over and slow down when approaching a highway work zone. Those reminders bear repeating, but we feel the need to stress that it is equally important to avoid distractions behind the wheel.