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Published: Thursday, 10/20/2005

65-mph truck speed fuels pike accidents

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Crashes involving commercial vehicles on the Ohio Turnpike increased by 40 percent during the year after the speed limit for trucks and private buses was raised from 55 to 65 miles an hour, even though commercial-vehicle volume grew by just 17 percent during that time, the Ohio Highway Patrol reported yesterday.

The study's time frame includes a 25 percent reduction for truck tolls the Ohio Turnpike Commission began in January. Both actions were intended to woo truckers to the turnpike and away from parallel secondary roads.

The report contains no data for accidents occurring on those secondary roads since the turnpike changes were made. The highway patrol said that information will be included in a second report to be issued next month.

Lt. Rick Zwayer, a highway patrol spokesman, said that "big picture" will be important to deciding the overall impact of the those actions.

"We are concerned that we don't want to degrade turnpike safety to an unreasonable level in order to make other areas safe," Lieutenant Zwayer said yesterday. "We want to strike a balance in overall safety."

Gary Suhadolnik, the turnpike's executive director, said yesterday he had not yet read the report, but remarked that the crash increase could be blamed, in part, on a particularly severe winter that often made the toll road slippery.

In any case, he said, the turnpike changed the speed limits and lowered the tolls at the request of state officials.

The patrol's report showed that weather conditions indeed were a factor, but that truck-related crashes and injuries were up by 25 percent when only incidents that occurred on dry pavement are considered.

There were six fatal crashes involving commercial vehicles during the period, up from an average of three per year during the previous three years, and dry-pavement injury crashes involving commercial vehicles went up by 49 percent.

Dry-pavement crashes in which a commercial truck driver was faulted for speeding or tailgating increased by a combined 123 percent - to 69 from an average of 31 reported during the previous three years.

"I don't think that there's a doubt that the speed and speed-related issues, such as assured clear distance ahead, have risen in correlation," with the higher speed limit, Lieutenant Zwayer said.

Speed surveys conducted by highway-patrol aircraft show that turnpike truckers did not increase their speeds by the same percentage as the limit increase.

Average commercial-vehicle speed rose from 62 mph before the limit went up to 66 mph after the increase, while the "85th percentile speed" - the speed of the slowest 85 percent of drivers - rose from 65 mph to 69 mph.

Car drivers' speeds also went up slightly, even though their speed limit didn't change.

"The data suggest that as truck speeds generally increase, so do passenger-car speeds," Lieutenant Zwayer said. "For whatever reason, most passenger vehicles tend to pass commercial vehicles, and do not want to stay close to commercial vehicles."

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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