CDOT launches trucker safety program in response to deadly I-70 crash |

CDOT launches trucker safety program in response to deadly I-70 crash

A truck takes advantage of a runaway truck ramp on Interstate 70.
Courtesy of Colorado Department of Transportation

The Colorado Department of Transportation is launching a safety campaign to better equip truck drivers making their way through the mountain corridor.

Last week, CDOT — in partnership with the Colorado Motor Carriers Association and Colorado State Patrol — unveiled “The Mountain Rules,” a comprehensive safety-focused effort to educate trucking companies and drivers on the challenges of driving through Colorado’s mountain passes.

“It’s no secret that our mountains create immense challenges for semi-truck drivers,” CDOT executive director Shoshana Lew said in a news release. “The Mountain Rules has a simple mission — get everyone home safely — and this campaign, which supports CDOT’s Whole Safety Whole System initiative, is a major step toward achieving that goal.”

Bob Wilson, CDOT’s statewide communications manager, said the department has been in discussions to address trucker safety for some time but were spurred to immediate action after a runaway semitrailer caused a major pileup that killed four people near Colorado Mills Parkway in Lakewood earlier this year.

Wilson said one of the main purposes of the new program is to help educate out-of-state drivers, who often drive through the area unaware of the potential dangers caused by inclement weather and steep grades.

“The issue is you get truckers that come in from out of state from the southeastern part of the country,” Wilson said. “They come in and they don’t know anything about the chain law. They get out of their trucks in their flip-flops and shorts when it’s 20 degrees out and the snow is sideways. They haven’t been properly educated by their trucking firms on what to anticipate. So we’re discussing how to get ahead of that with people coming into the state, during the wintertime especially. From there, we started looking at other things and what other tools we had at our disposal.”

In addition to an educational effort, CDOT is working to improve safety among truck drivers in the mountain corridor based on the results of focus groups with semitrailer drivers. To begin, CDOT will put up new signage on eastbound Interstate 70 east of the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels with information on brake check locations for truckers. The department also will re-stripe the wide eastbound exit ramp at the Genesee Park Interchange to create a better short-term parking area where trucks can cool down their brakes and run equipment checks before making the final descent to Golden.

The program also includes a new subscription-based, in-cab alert system where truck drivers can receive warnings as they approach areas where brake failures are common as well as with the locations of brake-check areas and runaway truck ramps. Truckers also can subscribe to Drivewyze, a service that informs drivers of upcoming weigh stations, examines the bypass criteria and lets the driver know if they’re able to continue on without stopping.

Finally, CDOT is looking into the feasibility of new runaway truck ramps and other mitigation efforts such as geometric and signage improvements to the existing Mount Vernon Canyon runaway ramp.

“We’re hoping it will have a big impact,” Wilson said. “There’s not a ton of truck accidents, but there’s enough to always be a concern. So if we can get truckers to slow down and not have any kind of crashes, that’s going to be a big improvement. Because all it takes is one jackknifed semi to block a highway for several hours. So anything we can do to avoid truck accidents, we’re going to see as an improvement.”

Wilson said that while the program is kicking off east of the Eisenhower-Johnson tunnels, CDOT is planning on expanding the effort to areas around the state, including Summit County. Of note, the most frequently used runaway truck ramp in the state is on westbound I-70 at milepost 209, just outside of Silverthorne. According to data from CDOT, the ramp has been used at least eight times since late August 2016.

Given the deadly accident in April, state officials also are hoping to get the word out that truck drivers won’t be cited for using truck ramps and that they shouldn’t hesitate to use one if necessary.

“I want to dispel any misconceptions, myths or rumors about truck ramps for all commercial carriers who travel our mountain corridors,” Colorado State Patrol Chief Col. Matthew Packard said in a statement. “Commercial carriers will not be cited by law enforcement for using truck ramps. Should your brakes fail, please save lives and use the ramps.”

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