February 4, 2008 | Mark Paradies

Monday Accident & Lessons Learned: UPS Driver Dies in Truck/Train Crash in Cook. MN – Why Traffic Accidents are Hard to Investigate

According to the StarTribune, a UPS delivery truck driver was killed when he ran into a moving freight train.

Imagine that you were assigned to investigate the accident. What problems do you face?

One issue you would need to look into is how the driver could miss seeing a freight train?

A more subtle issue is: How many Safeguards were there to keep traffic from hitting the train? Are they sufficiently strong enough?

After the accident, it will be easy to ascertain facts like:

  • Was there a guard (gate) at the crossing?
  • Did the gate work?
  • Were there flashing lights and a bell signal at the crossing? Did they work?

Some things will be harder to find out:

  • Was the windshield clean?
  • Was the driver on a cell phone or distracted by some other activity?

Some things are impossible to find out:

  • What was the driver thinking?

Frequently, traffic accidents have very few Safeguards to prevent a crash. Many times, the goodness and alertness of the driver are the only Safeguard.

Also, investigating a fatality is difficult because you can’t interview the person who died.

One way to make these types of investigations more productive is to require data collection devices (let’s call them black boxes) to help an investigator “see” what happened. Imagine if the UPS truck had been equipped with three simple “web cams” that save visual data. One facing forward, one facing the driver, and recording the traffic behind the truck. How much more would the investigator know?

Have you thought about where you need video and audio recordings to help with your next major accident investigation?

Finally, the other issue to consider is the post-accident factors that could make an accident survivable. This brings into question the crashworthiness of the vehicle, the use of seat belts, the deployment of airbags, etc.

Also, the accident response (emergency response) may play a factor.

Any deficiencies will need to be corrected. But many corrective actions in this type of accident may be beyond the investigator’s ability to change.

For example, if the investigator was a UPS representative, he might decide that the railroad crossing needs a better warning system. However, he can’t make the railroad implement this corrective action. Even if he decided that the UPS truck should be built stronger and have airbags, implementing this corrective action might be difficult.

Why? Certainly, changing the whole UPS fleet would be expensive. And making a truck more crash-worthy might ad weight. This added weight would cause the truck to burn more fuel. This might contribute to global warming. Thus a corrective action might have unintended, negative consequences. (Just as requiring higher gas mileage in cars to avoid global warming might lead to lighter, less crash-worthy cars that cause the death toll on the highway to increase.)

One last note. Many see a vehicle incident as a simple investigation. You simply find out who was a fault (usually one of the drivers), and you issue the appropriate ticket. TapRooT® Users know that they need to look at much more than who is at fault. They need to look at root causes and the adequacy of Safeguards if they are going to develop effective corrective actions.

Root Cause Analysis
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