What happened to Janet Eagle of Provo is one reason consumer groups and even the Teamsters are urging Congress to ban semitrailer trucks with triple trailers - which are now allowed in Utah and 12 other states.
In 1980, Eagle was a teenager in a school bus with the singing group New Horizons headed to Washington, D.C., when the bus stopped at a construction site near Mountain Home, Idaho."We had four cars ahead of us, our bus and a pickup truck with a camper right behind us. And a triple-trailer going about 55 miles per hour plowed into us," Eagle recalls. Four people were killed, and Eagle was among 28 that were seriously injured.
"The pickup was so smashed they couldn't even get the bodies out. If it hadn't been there, I wouldn't be alive today because I was leaning over my seat talking to a person behind me when the accident happened. So I got all the glass and metal in my face," she said.
Eagle lost her lip and an eyebrow, required 300 stitches in her face and considered herself lucky that she hadn't been decapitated. "When you're 15 years old and you don't know what you're going to look like for the rest of your life . . . it's scary," she said.
And Joan Claybrook, co-chairman of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), told a press conference that Eagle was lucky she was in a bus, "which is of course much more resistant to the big truck accidents than a car."
Claybrook's group wants the triple-trailers - which are as long as a 10-story building is high, and weigh as much as 50 cars - outlawed because their extra weight requires longer stopping distances, and causes more damage when accidents occur. They also move and maneuver more slowly on mountain slopes and in crowded traffic.
The triple-trailer arrangement causes constant "crack-the-whip" effects, causing trailers to wave into other lanes of traffic - especially when quick brakes or evasive action are employed. Evasive action that is safe for a single-trailer truck could easily jackknife a triple-trailer.
Claybrook wants most longer double-trailers outlawed as well, saying they have many of the same problems. She asked the House Public Works Subcommittee on Surface Transportation to limit the length of vehicles to 65-feet - long enough for a semi-truck with a 48-foot single trailer. She also wants an 80,000 pound limit.
That would outlaw triples - which have three 28-foot trailers - and many of the longer double-trailer arrangements.
Claybrook - who is also president of the consumer group Public Citizen founded by Ralph Nader - said that the Teamsters union determined that four out of five of its drivers prefer not to drive triples or longer doubles and feel they are dangerous. She said the union supports her proposals.
She hopes the reforms she seeks will become part of the transportation bill that Congress must reauthorize this year.
CRASH co-chairman Gerald Donaldson added, "The evidence from the scientific studies is very clear: monster trucks, be they triples, turnpike doubles, or whatever the configuration, are a public menace. It's time to restore sanity on America's highways."