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The evidence is written on the surface of the Wilson Road Bridge

If you’ve ever delivered in the section of Kansas City known here as the “Old Northeast,” you’ve probably seen the Wilson Road Bridge.

The structure isn’t actually over Wilson Road, and Wilson Road doesn’t sit on it. It’s a railroad bridge carrying several tracks to the Kansas City Terminal Railway over U.S. 24, but it sits near where Wilson Road crosses that highway, known in that area as Independence Avenue.

Approaching the bridge the first time, you may be struck by the numerous cracks and grooves that decorate the lower edge of the structure.

Many of those are from trucks – ones driven by someone who should know better, who should have seen the markings reading “12 FT. 0 IN.,” who should have prepared a route around a structure they obviously could not get under.

Normally, you would not hear me spending much time on wrecks that involve a truck. I’m well aware that in most cases, the truck is not at fault. But I’m starting to see a pattern here, and long-haul truckers will be assigned the blame – as they are for most everything.

Personally, I think that some other factors are at work.

Here’s what I found just taking a quick look back at some of the news we’ve covered here:

  • July 7, a truck hauling a boom lift hit a bridge on Highway 36 in Sealy, Texas, causing one death.
  • Back in June, a county dump truck struck several vertical and horizontal bridges supports on the Ouachita River Bridge in Arkadelphia, Ark., closing that structure to traffic.
  • Earlier that month, a flatbed hauling a bucket truck hit the bottom of the bridge over Interstate 40 near Valdese, N.C., closing it.
  • In May, a bridge in Oklahoma City collapsed when a flatbed with a load of construction equipment hit that overpass.
  • And in March, a truck with a reach-all bucket hit the 8 Mile Road bridge over U.S. 23 near Northfield Township, Mich., closing that structure.

As I said, a pattern.

So what’s going on? Why are trucks involved in these particular wrecks?

Let’s look at the possibilities:

First, some of the trucks involved are not semis, are not long-haul, and should not be put in the same category.

We also have some local-haul work going on here, specifically a lot of the construction equipment. They may be 18-wheelers, but they may never have crossed a state line.

Leaving those aside, we still have many long-haul trucks involved that are either too tall for the bridge or not paying attention to clearly marked structures too short to accommodate a semi.

That’s certainly the case on Wilson Road; I’ve seen it myself.

I cannot tell you exactly what happened in these incidents; the fact is, each has its own cause. But I would point you to an incident even earlier, in which an inexperienced driver tried to cross a bridge marked for 6 tons with a truck that weighed many times more than that. And I think it tells us a lot about what’s wrong with trucking right now, and what the solution is.

Her initial explanation was that she followed directions, which brought her in front of the bridge, but she didn’t know how much weight 6 tons was, and was not able to turn around or get out the way she came.

Inexperience. Lack of education or proper training. Inattention toward clear road signs. Inability to back out of where you’ve driven in.

All are the signs of someone new at their job or inadequately prepared for what they will face on the road. I suspect you would find many of these other accidents involved inexperienced drivers as well.

The solution is simple: Truckers must be not only trained, but trained to deal with the real conditions they will face in locations around the country. Low bridges are legion; you need to be ready for them when you meet them.

You have to be ready for mountains and plains; rain and snow; freezing cold and outrageous heat. All are eventually ahead of you.

That training also has to determine whether that future trucker has some basic knowledge. In a job where weight is everything, by the load, the truck, on each axle, on many bridges – not understanding that a ton is 2,000 pounds is a formula for disaster.

All of the technology in the world will not save that truck if the trucker ignores it. They certainly ignored the signs in these cases, or never figured out that, for example, you need to lower a boom before you transport it.

The experienced drivers know this; the ones that received real training (it is out there) know it. I’d wager that very few if any of these bridge strikes are by those folks. But in an industry with 100 percent turnover, we are bringing people into the business every day – people whom we must assume do not know these things.

We cannot idiot-proof our trucks; we can only work hard to keep idiots from driving them.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

If you doubt what the man says, you might want to talk with the folks who handle bridge repairs down at Wilson Road.

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