BACKGROUND: A log truck driver was driving his empty truck early one autumn morning in the South. The road was wet, but visibility was good.

PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS: The 35-year-old log truck driver was considered experienced.

UNSAFE ACT OR CONDITION: The log truck was traveling south on a two-lane state highway. The truck driver was following a car too closely but was not speeding.

ACCIDENT: The car in front of the truck stopped in the road prior to making a left hand turn. The truck driver vigorously applied his brakes to avoid hitting the car. The truck jackknifed, crossed the highway center line into the northbound lane, and struck the front end of an oncoming mini-van.

INJURY: The truck driver was not injured. The driver of the van suffered serious injuries and was flown to a regional hospital. The van carried no passengers. Both drivers were wearing seatbelts. The van was totaled. The log truck and trailer sustained some structural damage. The truck driver was charged with reckless driving.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CORRECTION: According to national truck accident reports, the most frequent cause of truck accidents is following too closely. In this case the truck driver avoided a collision with the car in front of him only to strike a vehicle in the adjoining lane of oncoming traffic.

Professional truck drivers constantly monitor the traffic and driving conditions around and ahead of them and adjust their speed and spacing as necessary to ensure they can safely stop their rigs. A good rule to use to determine adequate spacing calls for at least "one second of space" for each 10 feet of vehicle length below 40 mph. At greater speeds add one more second for safety. So, at a minimum, the driver of a 40-foot rig moving at 35 mph should leave four seconds between himself and the vehicle ahead. At 55 mph he should leave five seconds of space.

Lastly, the correct procedure for braking is to apply a gradual, steady pressure to the brakes. "Slamming on" the brakes will cause a truck to swerve and jackknife.

To help log truck drivers maintain their driving safety awareness and skills, FRA and the North Carolina Forestry Association have developed a forest products trucking safety video training program. It is available for purchase from NCFA, 1600 Glenwood Avenue, Suite I, Raleigh, North Carolina 27608; phone 919/834-3943.

Michael Wetzel
Southeastern Technical Division Forester

Please follow equipment manufacturers' recommendations for safe operation and maintenance procedures.