No explanation given for why semis stopped on I-75 before wrecks
Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 6:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 6:36 p.m.
The Florida commercial driver's license handbook states that when driving through fog, truck drivers should not stop in the roadway unless absolutely necessary.
During Sunday's string of collisions on Interstate 75 — caused when visibility was reduced to nearly zero by smoke from a wildfire and fog — two truckers heading south stopped their semis in their lanes, according to initial state crash reports.
Reports from the Florida Highway Patrol state that "several other collisions had just occurred … southbound and northbound," but no explanation is offered for why the truckers stopped in the highway.
Three people died and three others were injured after two vehicles struck the trucks and then were struck themselves. The drivers and a passenger of the semis survived with no listed injuries, according to the FHP.
Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Patrick Riordan said Wednesday the crashes remain under investigation. He declined to comment on whether the truck drivers should have stopped in their lanes.
"That part is under investigation, and to be honest, I'm not going to take a stab in the dark about what they did or should have done," Riordan said. "I'm sure there is an applicable statute that says you can't stop in the road."
Efforts Wednesday to reach the truck drivers were unsuccessful.
In total, the accidents strewn along a half-mile stretch of the northbound and southbound lanes through Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park killed 11 and sent 21 to Gainesville hospitals with injuries.
Three of the 11 people who died remained unidentified Wednesday.
Heavy smoke shrouded the southern part of I-75 through the prairie from a wildfire that broke out Saturday afternoon and continued to smolder. After the sun set, high pressure in the atmosphere caused an inversion layer to form over the smoke, according to the National Weather Service, further reducing visibility by trapping smoke and fog close to the surface.
FHP first closed U.S. 441 and then I-75 for at least three hours before reopening the roads when the smoke cleared. Within 45 minutes, smoke and fog had again sunk into the prairie, and the collisions started.
FHP Lt. Jeff Frost said that in Florida, licensed truckers are not required to have completed a driving school but must pass a written test and a skills test.
The Florida commercial driver's license manual states that drivers should slow down before entering fog and turn on four-way flashers. It also advises truck drivers to listen for traffic that cannot be seen and to avoid passing other vehicles.
The final point: "Don't stop along the roadside, unless absolutely necessary."
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 3,380 fatalities and 74,000 injuries occurred in accidents involving large trucks in 2009, the latest year for which statistics have been compiled.
Of those fatalities, 503 were people in the trucks, while 2,551 were in other vehicles and 326 were bicyclists or pedestrians.
In Florida in 2009, 179 of the 3,497 crashes with fatalities involved large trucks.
The national data also show that 60 percent of fatal crashes involving trucks on weekends occur at night. On weekdays, just 27 percent occur at night.