Collisions with 18-wheelers and other large, commercial vehicles often lead to serious injuries. When the truck driver is distracted, though, those injuries can be fatal. A recent fatal crash on I-35 shows us exactly how dangerous – and tragic – it can be.
News 9 reports that a truck driver traveling down I-35 received a notification on his phone from his Ring doorbell as he was approaching a congested area of the highway. Per the news report:
“It appears as if traffic was completely stopped or slowly moving when a semi truck… struck the passenger car, going over that car on top of it, into another semi,” Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Eric Foster said.
The driver swerved and collided with another semi before hitting a car. Two people inside of the car were pronounced dead at the scene.
The driver – who admitted to smoking marijuana before he started work that day – has been charged with two counts of manslaughter.
Why the driver’s distraction may be more to blame than the drugs
Marijuana (which is still a controlled substance in Oklahoma and by the standards of the federal government) slows down reaction time. It affects decision making and cognition. It can affect a person’s ability to drive for up to six hours (for smoking) or eight hours (for edibles). The collision happened at about 12:15pm, which means the driver was still within the “danger zone” of marijuana affecting his abilities.
However, reports do not indicate how much marijuana the driver smoked, and a recent study in JAMA implies that the amount of THC matters. Furthermore, the news reports state that the traffic was congested and stopped along I-35 for construction. Marijuana impairs judgment and motor skills, and it can cause drowsiness – but it doesn’t make people blind. So while there is every chance that the drugs played a role in this deadly multi-vehicle pileup, it is more likely that the driver’s distraction is what caused the crash. Had he not been videochatting with the delivery driver at his home, he may have noticed the backup of traffic more quickly, and potentially avoided this tragedy.
How many distracted driving crashes happen in Oklahoma?
The Oklahoma Highway Safety Office (OHSO) reports there were 7,904 accidents related to distracted driving in 2021. Of those collisions:
- 44 were fatal
- 178 led to serious injuries
- 1021 led to minor injuries
- 1,137 occurred in Tulsa County
- 5 fatal
- 25 serious injuries
- 189 minor injuries
Approximately 4.8% of all distracted driving accidents were caused by a driver who failed to stop, and less than 1% (0.5%, to be exact) were related to drug use.
By comparison, there were 8,646 distracted driving-related accidents in Oklahoma in 2019. That year had a greater number of folks with serious injuries (202), but a lower number of fatalities (40) and minor injuries (1013).
Why does this comparison matter?
Because things have changed drastically in this country over the past three years. There were likely more people driving in 2019 because they had to go to their workplace; today, national figures show that nearly 30% of jobs have remained remote. The number of people who shop online has also increased since 2019. All of this is to say that while the number of passenger vehicles on the road may have decreased over time, the number of trucks has not; if anything, the number of trucks increased, as did their mileage those truckers put on their vehicles.
The point is this: semi-trucks and commercial vehicles are all over the roads, and they’re here to stay. That means an increased chance of a collision with a big-rig on a highway or in your neighborhood. And if the truck driver (or ANY driver) is distracted, that increases the risk of injuries and death.
What kinds of injuries do distracted truck drivers cause?
Thankfully, most distracted driving accidents do not involve multiple trucks and vehicles like the one on I-35. (In 2021, only 110 out of the 7,904 distracted driving crashes involved four or more vehicles.) But no matter how many vehicles are involved, any collision with a semi-truck runs the risk of injury. Those injuries can include:
- Spinal cord injury
- Traumatic brain injury
- Crushing injuries leading to amputation/limb loss
- Multiple broken bones
- Organ damage
- Permanent nerve trauma
- Loss of vision or hearing
- Permanent scarring and/or disfigurement
- Emotional trauma, including PTSD
We know that the OHSO listed “minor” injuries as more common from truck wrecks, but they do not identify what a “minor” injury is. They also don’t identify which injuries may become worse with time.
For example, a person who suffers a blow to the head after a crash may not request an ambulance at the time of the accident, but may find days later that he or she is suffering from dizziness, fatigue, nausea, migraines, or light sensitivity. All of these are signs of brain trauma. Even if the person seeks medical attention, it is possible that he or she will live with some (or all) of these symptoms for their rest of his or her life. That’s a pretty serious injury in our books. It can keep a person from working, from spending time with loved ones, or from enjoying all that life has to offer.
PTSD is also a serious injury that may not present itself right away. You don’t have to be physically injured to suffer the effects of PTSD, so people who are suffering may not have reported that injury at the time because they didn’t realize they had it.
How to practice safe driving in Tulsa during Distracted Driving Awareness Month
We cannot control the actions of other drivers, but we can take steps to protect ourselves. Here are some ways you can help keep yourself safer on Tulsa’s roads:
- Put your phone away. If you have to use it for its GPS capabilities, turn off all other notifications.
- Set your mirrors and radio stations before you put the car in “drive.” If you have a passenger, put him or her in charge of the music.
- Stop if you get hungry. Eating and drinking are common distractions. One dropped fry can lead to a pretty serious accident, so pull over if you want to snack.
- Keep your grooming habits in your home. Don’t use a red light as an excuse to touch up your makeup or trim your beard.
- Model good behavior for your kids. If your children see you take driving seriously, they will, too.
If you or your loved one sustains an injury with a distracted driver, in a truck wreck, in a car crash, or in any type of accident caused by someone else’s negligence, we’re here to help. The Tulsa personal injury lawyers of Biby Law Firm represent folks throughout the state, including those in Broken Arrow, Bixby, Claremore, Jenks, Sand Springs, Grove, Sapulpa, Wagoner, Owasso, Muskogee, and the surrounding areas. Call or fill out our contact form today to get started on your truck accident claim.
Jacob Biby has spent his legal career helping folks just like you get the resources they need after an injury. He completed his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University and earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa in 2008. Jacob is licensed to practice in all Oklahoma state and federal courts, and has limited his career to representing individuals and families who were injured by the negligence of other people or corporations. Learn more about Jacob Biby.