Angela Arvanitakis of Overland Park always feared sharing the road with semi-trucks, and even more so after one slammed right into her daughter’s vehicle two years ago in Nebraska. “They go too fast,” she said. “I’m nervous every time I see a semi coming near.”
On August 21, 2017, brake lights lit the westbound lanes of Interstate 80 as the highway began to experience traffic due to people departing Omaha for a better view of the total solar eclipse. Demi Arvanitakis happened to be at the end of the line, driving her white Prius.
She and three of her friends, all 19-year-old sophomores at Creighton University, were amongst the people headed out for a better view, as they had binge-watched eclipse documentaries the night before and were headed for Lincoln.
“We expected some traffic,” she recalled, though she can’t remember whether traffic was at a complete stop or slowly creeping along. She also doesn’t recall if she checked the rear-view mirror or if she glimpsed the blue semi coming up behind her at highway speed.
“I had a brain injury, so I lost a lot of memory from that day,” she said.
What she can recall, however, is that her friend, who was riding in the backseat, Joan Ocampo-Yambing would still be alive today had truck driver Robert Richmond been paying attention to the flow of traffic and hit the brakes in time.
“She was right behind me,” Arvanitakis said. “I heard she was killed on impact.”
According to the safety board, the three leading causes of fatal wrecks are speeding, distracted driving and impairment. Truck crashes continue to grow deadlier as speed limits have risen across the country, and even today’s well-build cars equipped with safety features are no match for a massive semi traveling at high speeds.
Rather than the 35 states that had maximum speed limits of 70 or above a decade ago, there are now forty-three states. “Surviving a crash becomes less viable at about a 45 mph impact and it starts to go up pretty exponentially,” said Capt. Chris Turner.
According to companies that have deployed the equipment in their fleets, today’s forward collision avoidance systems can prevent more than seven out of 10 rear-end truck collisions. Meanwhile, NHTSA claims that when wrecks do occur, injuries tend to be less severe and property damages are lower.
“The silver bullet out there right now is automatic emergency braking,” said Jeff Burns, a Kansas City attorney. At least 300 people die and 15,000 are injured every year in a wreck due to a semi running into the rear of another vehicle, a University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study shows.
Since summer 2017, three rear-end truck crashes left eight people dead in the Kansas City area. Five individuals died after a single wreck on the Kansas Turnpike near Bonner Springs on July 11, 2017. Another passed away in the same month after an accident involving a semi on 1-435 in Overland Park. In February, two children were killed on the same stretch of interstate after a semi-truck hit a minivan near State Line Road. These three wrecks could have been easily avoided if the semis that crashed into slow-moving traffic were equipped with emergency braking.
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