An I-Team investigation reveals truck drivers are responsible for more wrecks on Coachella Valley roads than their numbers would suggest. This follows a tough past month for truckers on our local roads.
One was involved in a Banning wreck where an overturned pickup truck was struck by a big rig on April 19th. Two big rigs collided along Interstate 10 east of Coachella on April 29. One caught fire. The freeway was shut down for hours. Another big truck broke down in the fast lanes near Indian Canyon Drive on April 25, slowing traffic for miles. A truck rolled over exiting the freeway at Monterey on April 30, and a big truck rolled over on April 22 while getting off the freeway in Indio at Jefferson Street.
"He exited the freeway way too fast," said Officer David Torres of the California Highway Patrol, "and wasn’t able to maneuver the turn so he ended up going over the side and overturning onto the shoulder.” Torres investigated that wreck and chalks it up to an inexperienced driver going too fast. “Most of these crashes are unsafe speed or unsafe turns," said Torres adding there are more new drivers on the road now than in past years, and prone to making first-timer mistakes.
More than 45 million vehicles travel through the Banning Pass in and out of the Valley every year. According to Caltrans Annual Average Daily Traffic count data, big trucks account for between 16 and 25 percent of the traffic on Interstate 10 through the pass and the Coachella Valley depending on where you count them. But they were responsible for 41 percent of the collisions on the freeway.
KESQ I-Team investigator Jeff Stahl requested traffic collision information from the CHP for both cars and big trucks along Interstate 10 throughout the San Gorgonio Pass area and the entire Coachella Valley for the past three years. In 2019, ahead of the pandemic, there were 318 crashes along Interstate 10 in our area. 131 of them were blamed on big trucks. There were 153 collisions blamed on trucks in 2020 and 217 last year, 2021. 66 people were injured during that time period– 2 killed.
Jeff Stahl rode along with Officer Torres to get a first-hand look at the work he and other officers perform to slow big rigs and other drivers down. He cited a truck driver for going 72 where the maximum posted speed is 55 miles per hour for big trucks on all California Highways.
Torres says many companies are hiring new drivers due to supply chain shortages who are simply unaware of the rules, especially those from out of state. “So a lot of these new drivers need to learn the rules a little better, the laws a little better so they can follow them appropriately,” Torres said.
Another issue is big trucks driving in the fast lanes, or in a manner that makes it hard for other traffic to pass by. “There are drivers that try to push the speed limit," said Torres. "A lot of times they’re trying to pass,” he added.
CHP Officer Andres Becerra said about new drivers, “They’re 80,000 pounds on the road, and so a lot of them aren’t used to driving their little Honda Civic anymore.” But he recognizes the problem is being addressed. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration lays out the compliance rules and has created new programs to better educate new truck drivers.
As of February 7, 2022, all new drivers must complete its Entry-Level Driver Training course. It’s now required just to get a permit. The driver program is in response to the surge in new truckers who are not familiar with the rules of the road veteran drivers have long known. That includes knowing California's trucking speed limit.
"We still regulate them down to 55 so it's a little bit of an adjustment for them when they enter the state of California.'CHP Officer Andres Becerra
“Other states have them going at 75 miles per hour," said Becerra adding, "Here in California, we still regulate them down to 55 so it’s a little bit of an adjustment for them when they enter the state of California.”
You can take action to stay safe. Police say don’t follow a truck from too close behind and don’t let them follow you too closely. Be aware, and keep your distance from them. If you’re going to pass, do so safely, but don’t delay by hanging out in their blind spots which are just left and right of the driver.
Watch our I-Team investigation, Trucker Troubles, Tuesday at 6:00 PM on KESQ News Channel 3.