No matter what kind of vehicle you drive, traveling on the winding roads of West Virginia can pose plenty of dangers if you're not paying attention to speed limits and the traffic around you.
But for someone handling a semi-trailer truck, which weighs several tons itself and is likely carrying several more tons of freight, the situation can become all the more treacherous for that driver and other motorists.
That was underscored again Wednesday, Sept. 10, when a tractor-trailer struck a guard rail, rolled over and lost its load of lumber. Fortunately, no one was hurt in this case, but the accident brought traffic on westbound Interstate 64 to a halt for several hours that morning.
A review by The Herald-Dispatch of highway accidents involving trucks determined that Wednesday's accident was no isolated incident. At least seven trucks have rolled over since June 2013 on I-64 in the Huntington area, leaving mail, wood, scrap metal or steel beams on and along the highway. Shifting loads have been a factor in at least three of the previous rollovers. In one case earlier this summer, a truck lost its load of steel rods, sending two rolling down an exit ramp and into the path of a motorcyle, killing one of its riders.
The varying nature of the accidents suggest that there are multiple concerns to be addressed.
One, of course, would be speed. Shifting loads suggest that a truck may have been traveling too fast on a curving highway, either causing the rollover, forcing the truck's load to shift or placing too much stress on restraints to hold cargo in place. That begs two questions: Is the speed limit on I-64 through the Huntington area low enough (it generally is either 65 or 70 mph)? And is the speed limit being sufficiently enforced? Safety officials and police should try to answer both those questions and take appropriate action.
Another question is whether the trucking companies and their drivers are securing loads adequately and whether the restraints they use are sufficient. One police officer who responded to Wednesday's accident questioned whether drivers are taking enough time to inspect the loads, use restraining straps properly and making sure they employ enough restraints to transport cargo safely. That, too, is an issue that should be examined.
Concerns about safety related to freight trucks on highways is nothing new, and it's certainly not confined to this part of the state. In recent days, the West Virginia Public Service Commission announced that it would use a federal grant for a one-year enforcement effort to increase commercial vehicle inspections on roads considered high-crash areas. Many of the target areas are in other parts of the state, although U.S. 52 in Wayne and Cabell counties was among the areas of concern. However, I-64 was not among the specified routes.
It would seem, though, that in light of what's happened on the interstate in this region, more attention to enforcing speed limits and inspecting freight trucks would be wise steps. That's particularly true in the face of predictions by the Federal Highway Administration that the tonnage of freight carried on the nation's highways could double within the next two decades, meaning more and more trucks on the road. As a result, stepped-up enforcement and attention to safety issues will become even more of a necessity.