Over the last few months, the Washington State Patrol (WSP) has responded to several collisions involving commercial vehicles— many of which have caused significant traffic delays. We know longer commute times can be frustrating and that the public has many questions surrounding commercial vehicle collisions.
The WSP, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sat down to answer your questions and provide you with the following information.
Q: What is being done to slow commercial vehicle traffic down and to reduce collisions?
A (WSP): The Washington State Patrol is dedicated to saving lives out on our roadways.
Troopers and commercial vehicle enforcement officers (CVEOS) are constantly analyzing collision data to determine problem areas and finding ways to keep the motoring public safe. Every day CVEOs patrol those high collision areas as well as perform safety inspections. Just last year, CVEOs conducted more than 100,000 inspections statewide.
During the last 18 months, more than 7 million commercial vehicles drove through the Tacoma Dome corridor on I-5. In the past year, the WSP has seen a 46% decrease in commercial vehicle-related fatality collisions.
However, the WSP understands that traffic congestion caused by collisions can be very frustrating. Troopers and CVEOs will continue to monitor data, deploy additional resources to problems areas, and work efficiently to clear the roads and get people home safely.
Q: The Washington State Patrol has an entire bureau dedicated to commercial vehicles; how does that differ from emphasis patrols?
A (WSP): The Washington State Patrol Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Bureau has two dedicated divisions to ensuring commercial vehicle safety and compliance: The Commercial Vehicle Division and the Motor Carrier Safety Division.
Both divisions make up about 250 employees who are responsible for promoting and educating the safe travel of commercial vehicles on state roadway. Whereas emphasis patrols are usually a redirection of officers to a specific problem area for a short duration of time.
Q: What speed is generally ‘safe for conditions’ for commercial motor vehicles driving on wet pavement through the construction areas of Tacoma?
A (WSP): There is no set number. However, we do encourage everyone to drive for the conditions as well as know the limitations of yourself as a driver and your vehicle.
Q: I once reported a commercial vehicle driving aggressively and they were never pulled over. In this case, would it be appropriate to call back with a new location?
A (WSP): Absolutely. Anytime you see something that is unsafe on the roadways, whether it is a commercial vehicle or not, please keep first responders updated.
Q: How many vehicles traveled on Interstate 5 in 2017 compared to 2018?
A (WSDOT): Based on the average annual daily traffic counts collected on I5 at milepost 131 (near Tacoma), the data shows an average of 197,000 in 2016 and 2017.
Q: How many freight vehicles traveled Interstate 5 each day?
A (WSDOT): Interstate 5 is the busiest freight corridor in the state, with average daily truck volumes of around 15,000 freight truck each day moving between Tacoma and Seattle.
Q: Large collision scenes seem to take a lot of time and resources to cleanup; how does this affect the cost for time spent and who is in charge for it?
A (WSDOT): WSDOT tracks the time and costs involved for the cleanup and the resources used.
That information is then turned over to Risk Management, who bills the person or party responsible for the collision.
Q: How is cleanup affected when collisions occur in a constructions zone vs. not?
A (WSDOT): Every collision faces unique challenges for first responders, WSDOT, and tow truck operators.
WSDOT’s Incident Response Team (IRT) patrols major roadways to assist the WSP with clearing crashes and stalls to restore regular traffic flow. WSDOT estimates that IRT trucks have saved Washington State more than $65 million per year in prevented lost time and fuel.
Additionally, WSDOT makes every effort to have maintenance crews positioned to inspect, repair, and open roadways as soon as the WSP finishes their investigation. If a collision occurs in a construction zone, sometimes the contractor has equipment on site that can help with cleanup response.
Regardless of where a collision occurs – construction zone or not – the goal is always the same: Reopen the roadway as soon as possible.
Q: What is being done to hold those who engage in unsafe practices on our highways accountable?
A (FMCSA): For motor carriers, the FMCSA evaluates each company’s safety performance in seven unique categories— crashes and unsafe driving are just two out of the seven. Additionally, police reports that come from collisions are uploaded into a national database where FMCSA identifies the entities that are having a higher rate of unsafe incidents than others. Those entities receive a safety investigation, which takes a deep dive into the motor carrier’s practices. It’s possible that after the investigations, the motor carrier may receive a less than satisfactory rating and be given appropriate penalties.
For commercial vehicle drivers, FMCSA requires that state licensing agencies remove their operating privileges if they are convicted of certain traffic violations. For example, two convictions of excessive speeding in any three-year period must result in the removal of the commercial vehicle driver’s operating privilege.
The primary mission of FMCSA is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. To this end, Washington State has been and continues to be one of our biggest assets. This past fall, FMCSA presented the WSP with the 2018 State Leadership Award for the lowest commercial motor vehicle fatality rate— one of FMCSA most respected awards.
Q: Are citations different for commercial vehicles compared to the regular motoring public?
A (WSP): No. The Washington State Supreme Court (RCW 46.63.110) sets base penalties and the State Legislature sets statutory assessments.
While the violation costs may not differ between commercial vehicles and the regular motoring public, there is a significant impact to commercial vehicle operators beyond just the citation. All commercial vehicles have safety ratings that are impacted by citations and collisions. More citations and collisions result in higher costs for insurance and more frequent inspections by law enforcement.
Q: What is the total number of crashes investigated by the Washington State Patrol?
A (WSP): The number of collisions the WSP investigated in 2018 is 48,399.
Q: How many commercial vehicle-related collisions were investigated by the Washington State Patrol?
A (WSP): Washington State Patrol Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Officers investigated 2,394 commercial vehicle collisions in 2018.
Q: How many commercial vehicles have been contacted by the Washington State Patrol? How many of those contacted were cited for speed?
A (WSP): In total, the WSP contacted 106,042 commercial vehicles. The breakdown of citations are as follows:
• 4,861 – Total CMV contacts with a speeding violation
• 2,164 – Cited for speed
• 1,602 – Written Warning
• 1,091 – Verbal warning
Q: What is the difference between a ticket for “speeds too fast for conditions” vs “speeding”?
A (WSP): A speeding ticket is issued when a driver is going faster than the posted legal limit. Ticket fines for Washington State are:
• 1 to 5 mph over the speed limit: $125.
• 6 to 10 mph over the speed limit: $136.
• 11 to 15 mph over the speed limit: $166.
• 16 to 20 mph over the speed limit: $207.
• 21 to 25 mph over the speed limit: $259.
• 26 to 30 mph over the speed limit: $310.
• 31 to 35 mph over the speed limit: $361.
Speeding too fast for conditions is any speed that is above a reasonable speed based on the road and weather conditions. The base ticket amount for speeding too fast for conditions is $136. However, if you are involved in a collision and receive a citation for speed too fast for conditions, the ticket amount is $187.
Q: When trucks stop at scales, is there a “routine” equipment safety check? What are the most common violations found on semi-trucks? What lane restrictions are placed on them? Are semis held to greater following distances? Who is punished: Drivers, truck owners, or both?
A (WSP): CVEOs stationed at the scales will conduct routine inspections on commercial vehicles that do not meet a set list of safety criteria.
The most common violations found on commercial vehicles are, in order:
2. Load Securement
4. Brake Adjustments
The top most common driver-related violations are, in order:
1. Size/with of vehicle
2. Failure to obey traffic control devices (left lane violations)
4. Hours of service violations
Lane travel for everyone – commercial vehicles or not – is to stay right unless you are passing. If the road is three or more lanes, commercial vehicles cannot be in the third lane. Additionally, same as the regular motoring public, commercial vehicles must also follow at a safe following distance.
When it comes to citations, typically both the driver and company are held accountable. Through safety inspections, compliance reviews, and safety audits, troopers and CVEOs will fine the driver and/or the carriers based on each situation.