(UPDATED 6/29/2016 7:23AM)
There has been yet another fatal truck crash at the Wellsona Rd crossing on Highway 101 in Paso Robles, in northern San Luis Obispo County. One person died and another was taken to a local hospital with serious injuries.
This time, a big-rig truck and a SAAB passenger vehicle collided. Rebecca Golde was killed when the car in which she was a passenger collided into the rear-wheels of a big-rig truck that was crossing the southbound lanes of Highway 101 to turn left onto the northbound 101. The car was driven by Nathan Martin of San Luis Obispo.
This intersection has been dangerous for years. The lawyers at San Luis Obispo’s Ernst Law Group have been litigating truck accident cases at this intersection for over 15 years, including wrongful death and catastrophic injuries. Being the largest personal injury law firm in San Luis Obispo gives us an advantage when litigating high stakes catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases. We have the resources to aggressively and successfully litigate these hard fought cases. Early investigation is key – there is often physical evidence left at the scene, witnesses should be interviewed as soon as possible, and photographs and videotape evidence must be secured.
Most importantly, the electronic data on the truck must be preserved. Big-rig trucks have various on-board systems called telematics that track the truck’s movements. This data is critical in determining speed and in correlating the hand written log books kept by the driver. However, many times the electronic systems override the stored data after a number of miles are driven. It is absolutely critical that a demand is made immediately that the data be preserved. Our success in preserving such evidence has helped us prove liability in several truck cases at this intersection.
With rare exceptions, these collisions take place in the pre-dawn or late night hours. This implicates driver fatigue as a potential cause. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that over 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year.
According to NHTSA, most of these crashes occur between midnight and 6:00 am. The crash being reported this morning in Paso Robles occurred just before 5:00 am. When crashes involve big-rig trucks, the results are nearly always catastrophic or fatal. It is estimated that there are 11 fatal truck crashes every day, killing nearly 4,000 people. Another 100,000 are injured in truck crashes. The numbers are continuing to rise in a good economy where more goods are being shipped by truck.
Most truck drivers are hard-working and skilled. But their job is hard. Spending 11-hours a day driving a huge vehicle is exhausting. Even truck drivers following the rules face driver fatigue. But, when a truck driver drives too much, there is huge risk to the driving public. This is why truck drivers are subject to strict driving limitations, known as hours of service limitations. Typically a driver may not drive more than 11-hours in a day.
The driver fatigue issue is a particular concern at the Wellsona Rd crossing because there is a fuel truck stop on the west side of the highway. Tired drivers are looking for a place to rest. Drivers coming north on Highway 101 are required to turn left across the south-bound lanes to enter the truck stop. There are warning lights about the intersection, but the intersection is uncontrolled, meaning no stop sign or light. In cases that the Ernst Law Group has handled we have been able to obtain security camera footage from the truck stop that actually showed a fatal collision. The cases we have filed and successfully prosecuted have been against truck drivers, trucking companies and the State of California for the dangerous design of the turn-lane markings.
Truck drivers planning to exit the truck stop and continue north on the highway are forced to make a
sharp right turn into the turn pocket. Many times the driver cannot make the turn tight enough to avoid encroaching into the north-bound fast lane. If a car is approaching, the trailer portion of the truck is stuck, blocking the south-bound lanes of the highway.
The California Highway Patrol will no doubt conduct an extensive investigation to determine the cause of the crash. Whatever the reason, we can know one thing with certainty – the accident was avoidable. Don’t drive when you are sleepy. Slow down at intersections. Be alert. Don’t try to cross the road until you are certain it is safe. And, for the State of California – please do something about this road. Close the crossing. Change the design. Something.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a truck crash, please feel free to contact our office for a no cost, no obligation consultation with a lawyer.