Originally created 02/17/99

Fatal truck accidents increase across state



ANDERSON, S.C. -- Even as South Carolina's legislators once again consider raising the speed limit on the state's highways comes word that the number of fatal accidents involving large trucks jumped last year to the highest point in eight years.

There were 104 deaths through October as the result of accidents with tractor-trailers and other large trucks, according to state Public Safety Department figures reported Tuesday by the Anderson Independent-Mail. In 1997 there were 77 deaths.

"The fact is that we all go too fast," said state Sen. Bob Waldrep, R-Anderson. "You'll be going 70 miles per hour, and then a truck goes past you at 85. We're all potential race car drivers."

Mr. Waldrep opposes raising interstate highway speed limits in rural areas from the current 65 mph to 70 mph. Attempts to raise the limit so far have failed in South Carolina, though there is talk of a compromise this year.

Speed, road construction, not enough enforcement and schedule pressure all are cited as contributing to the truck-related deaths.

Truck drivers' "defensive driving has to be impeccable" when an average tractor-trailer weighs 80,000 pounds and an average car weighs 3,000 pounds, said Tom Crosby, a spokesman for the AAA Carolinas motor club.

Truckers are pressured to stay on schedule, said Rick Todd, president of the South Carolina Trucking Association. Still, he said, "Our guys are family people; they want to get home safe."

But, said Mr. Crosby, "The economics mitigate against the safety aspects of it."

Nationally, the fatal-accident rate involving large trucks decreased 31 percent nationwide, while trucking mileage increased 40 percent between 1987 and 1997, Mr. Todd said. In addition, truck drivers were cited as contributing to an accident in just 17 percent of cases during the same period.

The state Highway Patrol has at least one or two troopers assigned to patrol highways in each county on a 24-hour basis, spokesman Dan Marsceau said. Mr. Waldrep said that might not be enough.

South Carolina's Transport Police, who enforce state and federal laws dealing with trucks and other commercial vehicles, often find that neither motorists nor truck drivers are responsible for an accident, Capt. Neil Paul said.

Construction, like that on Interstate 85, also comes into play by narrowing lanes, increasing congestion and changing speed limits.

"There is no question that the different speed limits on I-85 have an effect," Capt. Paul said. "For the most part it is a two-lane highway."

Through October, there were six fatal accidents on I-85 in South Carolina involving tractor-trailers.

"I-85 is the most dangerous interstate in South Carolina, partly due to construction," Mr. Crosby said.