The dangers of trucking - WNEM TV 5

I-team report

The dangers of trucking

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BAY COUNTY, MI (WNEM) -

Phillip Whitmer spends his days getting in and out of big trucks, teaching new drivers the rules of the road.

"To be safe and enter the workforce and help move America's economy," the Baker College teacher said.

He always has safety in his rear view mirror as he teaches future truckers at Baker College. With more than 100,000 accidents nationwide each year involving big trucks, 30 percent of them fatal, safety matters most.

"Don't get DUIs, don't talk on the phone when driving down the highway, obey the rules," Whitmer said.

But are drivers always following the advice of their teachers? 

Officer Larry Thiel with the Michigan State Police welcomed TV5 aboard. They were there as he stopped a truck at the I-75 rest stop in Bay County. It was near the end of his shift.

"The traffic stop was for two reasons. Number one, it was for equipment violation. And number two, it was for cell phone use, which also leads a little bit to distracted driving," Thiel said.

That's all it takes to put the brakes on a big rig, a minor problem that often leads to a full blown inspection.

"Everything that we inspect on the left side of the truck, as we circle around, the lights, the tires, the wheels, everything. We circle around and repeat the process on the right side as we go back up," Thiel said.

Sometimes the inspections reveal something worse.

"This tire's been cut across the tread, so we'll take a little bit closer look at that," he said.

The driver of the truck said he didn't even know about it.

"Obviously they're not very old. I just wasn't aware it had a gash in it like that," the driver said.

For an industry that has taken a beating over the years the I-team discovered crash numbers are actually down. In Michigan there were more than 10,000 last year and 94 of them were fatal.

"I don't think it's a bad, rogue industry anymore, those days are gone," said Lt. Charles Black, with the Michigan State Police.

Black is the commanding officer for the commercial vehicle division, the unit patrolling I-75 in Mid-Michigan. He is most alarmed by distracted driving.

"Things like talking on the cell phone, that's nationally prohibited. They can use a headset, bluetooth, but there shouldn't be anything in their hands," Black said.

Keep in mind accidents are not always the trucker at fault. The feds say 75 percent of truck accidents are actually caused by a smaller passenger vehicle.

"The vehicles around the commercial vehicles are causing a lot of the problems. It's not always the trucks fault," Black said.

Black said all drivers need to understand operating a big truck isn't like driving your own car.

"We run up to 164,000 pounds. So compare that to your 3,000 pound car. The stopping distance is going to be quite different," Black said.

Back at Baker, Whitmer uses a lengthy class to promote safety and change the perception that dogged the industry for so long.

Whitmer also said trucking companies are policing themselves, using technology to monitor if a driver is getting sleepy so they know when to pull that driver off the road.

"There's always that percentage whether you're four-wheel or 18-wheel, driving haphazardly and in an unsafe manner," Whitmer said.

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