JERRY DAVICH: ‘Green does not mean go’
April 18, 2012 11:46PM
Truck and passenger vehicle traffic travel along U.S. 30 near the stop light at U.S. 30 and 475W/Sedley Road in Porter County, Ind. Wednesday April 18, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 21, 2012 8:22AM
The charging 18-wheeler truck hauled through the red stoplight with just a second to spare before the light turned to green for crossing traffic.
No vehicles at that moment were turning onto U.S. 30 from County Road 500W in Porter County, the intersection where the Lucky Stop gas station and convenience store is located. And no one noticed the trucker flying through that yellow-to-red stoplight. Except me.
I was parked at that intersection for more than an hour Monday afternoon for this very reason. To watch — and count — if any truckers driving along U.S. 30, either eastbound or westbound, illegally blew through the red stoplight. Surprisingly, only one did during that hour.
I parked there in response to a challenge I received from a local police chief after he read last Thursday’s column about the death of a Valparaiso woman who was hit and killed by a trucker who blew through a stoplight at U.S. 30 and County Road 600W.
I wrote that Marla Fry was at the exact wrong spot at the exact wrong time at the intersection of fate and randomness. What if she was just five seconds late to that intersection? Or five seconds early?
Most readers agreed, but many also pointed out the deadly danger of truckers who routinely drive through red stoplights along U.S. 30 between Valparaiso and Merrillville.
“This is not an email from a chief of police. This is from a native of the area who knows that the only reason more of those types of accidents do not occur is because those of us who drive this stretch each and every day do so with the full understanding and expectation that trucks will run the lights,” a police chief wrote.
“They always have and they always will because no one is stopping them besides us, their would-be victims.”
He then challenged me to park at the intersection of U.S. 30 and 500W for one hour, for a follow-up column.
“If you do not count at least five trucks per hour running the (stop)light, I will buy you the best dinner that money can buy,” he wrote.
So that’s what I did Monday afternoon. Like I said, only one trucker drove through the stoplight, but I am convinced it happens much more often after hearing from many daily commuters and neighbors who see it on a daily basis.
Neighbors know it’s a problem
“I often see large trucks or tractor-trailers barreling toward a controlled intersection,” said Mark Thiros of Valparaiso. “The light turns red well before the trucks enter the intersection, but they roll right on through with callous disregard for those potentially in their path.”
“I have twice driven past the carnage of horrible collisions after the trucker’s plan did not succeed and innocent drivers were killed,” Thiros added.
Thiros said such reckless driving should be reported to police by other motorists, and the state needs a law calling for the arrest of those truckers based on a citizen’s report.
“The offense should never be treated as a simple infraction and perhaps should be upgraded to felony status,” he said. “Perhaps such a measure will deter this occurrence.”
During my time at that intersection, I counted many truckers who had to implement their “panic stops” to make the stoplight. You couldn’t miss the screeching sound their brakes made.
To be fair, I also counted cars and other vehicles, with 15 of them driving through the yellow light, and two running the red light. (By the way, the green light for U.S. 30 traffic runs for just under a minute, I counted. I thought it would be longer.)
I not only heard from commuters, neighbors and a police chief, but also a few truckers. (Read a larger sampling of the reader feedback I received on my blog today at http://blogs.post-trib.com/davich/.)
“Jerry, most trucks running U.S. 30 through Porter County are forced either to run red lights or perform a panic stop,” said Jack Lund of Gary. “Why? Because of inferior traffic signaling, resulting in insufficient warning time in which to stop an 80,000-pound, 18-wheeler before reaching the intersection once the yellow light appears.”
Lund cites proof of his point from all the black skid marks at those intersections where, he says, “terrified truckers are suddenly confronted with a too-brief caution light, and their trucks and trailers lay down 18 stripes of rubber, often to no avail.”
Inexperience, or poor design?
Another trucker who often drives that route dissected the crash that killed Fry in great detail, citing numerous factors I never considered. Such as, why was that trucker using U.S. 30 (not Interstate 80) with such a large, double-trailer load? Was he lost or new to the area?
“I am guessing this driver got the light green (at an earlier stoplight) and he wasn’t expecting any other lights,” the trucker told me.
“In any case, this driver was not in control, and based on my experience as a driver trainer, he is done,” he said. “His carrier probably will fire him. They will have to make a settlement which will probably be in the $4 to $8 million range. He may also face charges and get sued.”
“The real culprit here is too many crossings of U.S. 30,” he concluded. “If some of these were closed or rearranged, these incidents would drop off.”
Lund said his solution is for the state to install more-modern traffic signals with a large screen attached, flashing a countdown when the yellow light will appear.
“This affords all motorists a realistic chance of timing their vehicle’s movements so they will be ready to slow and stop once the yellow light does appear,” he said. “The countdown essentially permits drivers to know when their green light is getting stale, and will shortly turn yellow, then red. The result is far fewer accidents.”
“Even if it cost more, how can you possibly fail to properly engineer the traffic lights when countless crashes are occurring, some with loss of life and limb? How many Indiana Department of Transportation engineers have been behind the wheel of a heavily-laden semi? Very few, if any, it seems.”
I contacted INDOT for its response to this potential solution.
“It doesn’t appear insufficient stopping time for semis is the issue here,” INDOT spokesman Matt Deitchley said.
“Our traffic engineers have looked into the traffic signals with flashing countdowns, which reveal when the green light will turn to yellow, and found they are not any more effective in preventing accidents than the current signals we have in place.”
“There is also a concern the countdown would encourage drivers to accelerate, when the light is preparing to change, in an effort to beat the light and ultimately create an even more dangerous situation,” he said.
“Our lights are all timed in accordance with nationally accepted standards that have undergone extensive speed and deceleration studies, and determined they do allow sufficient time for all vehicles on the road to stop in time,” he said.
The data I reported in my previous column supports INDOT’s stance, Deitchley pointed out.
“It shows the majority of the accidents have been rear-end collisions. So, it’s often people stopping for the light, and the driver behind them causing the accident, and very few of those have had semis involved.”
The police chief believes public awareness is key, including more newspaper columns and stories, “so all of us again will warn our children and wait five seconds after the green before we proceed into the intersection,” he said. “Green does not mean go.”
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