When oversized trucks meet low overpasses, catastrophic accidents occur. This was the case March 26, 2015 when a big rig struck the bottom of an overpass on Interstate 35 in Salado, Texas, and the falling debris from the bridge killed one person and injured three others.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) says charges are pending against the tractor trailer’s driver, Valentin Martinez, 41. His oversized 18-wheeler — a flatbed hauling hydraulic lifting equipment — hit the bottom of a bridge across I-35 at FM 2484, which was under construction at the time.
Concrete beams fell on two pickups and three semi trucks, including that of Martinez. The crash killed pickup driver Clark Brandon Davis, 32, of Arlington, Texas. The three injured persons included Martinez, and all fortunately recovered from their injuries.
Davis’ family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Martinez and his employer, Lares Trucking of Crowley, Texas, who owns the big rig.
The DPS said Lares Trucking lacked an over-height permit for the load. The DPS also found that the semi truck’s driver was hauling “an illegal oversize load” and was “inattentive,” since signs were posted in advance of the overpass indicating a clearance of 13 feet, 6 inches.
Such signs often indicate a lower clearance than in actuality, to err on the side of caution. In this case, the DPS said the overpass was actually 14 feet, 1 inch high, while the truck and its load were 14 feet, 7 inches high — a half-foot higher than the bottom of the overpass, and over a foot higher than the height specified on warning signs posted in advance of the bridge.
DPS officials said there are charges pending in the case and could range from a traffic ticket for having an over-height load to criminally negligent homicide. The DPS, which is still investigating, has up to two years to file charges. In any truck-bridge crash, charges depend on the individual case.
Texas laws on oversized trucks and overpasses are quite clear.
The Texas Transportation Code, in Sec. 621.207, states: “MAXIMUM HEIGHT. (a) A vehicle and its load may not be higher than 14 feet. (b) The operator of a vehicle that is higher than 13 feet 6 inches shall ensure that the vehicle will pass through each vertical clearance of a structure in its path without touching the structure. (c) Any damage to a bridge, underpass, or similar structure that is caused by the height of a vehicle is the responsibility of the owner of the vehicle.”
The code’s Sec. 621.504 also states: “BRIDGE OR UNDERPASS CLEARANCE. A person may not operate or attempt to operate a vehicle over or on a bridge or through an underpass or similar structure unless the height of the vehicle, including load, is less than the vertical clearance of the structure as shown by the records of the Texas Department of Transportation.”
Such records are made available for trucking lines to ensure they are alerted to possible low clearances on trucks’ routes and can take alternate routes to ensure safety.
A vehicle’s height is measured from the roadbed to the highest point of the load. Any vehicle 14 feet or lower can operate on Texas roads without a permit. Those over 14 feet require a special permit, which includes receiving alerts about low bridges.
To gain a legal permit for hauling oversized loads, vehicles must be registered with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV then alerts drivers where they must divert and take another route due to low-clearance bridges. The oversized truck in Salado lacked a legal permit from the DMV, which is why the DPS cited its “illegal oversized load.”
In other cases, truckers’ reliance on GPS may be to blame for oversized trucks striking bridges. Global Positioning Systems don’t necessarily take into account the height of the truck for which they provide route information. A GPS may tell a trucker to take a route which leads directly to a crash at the bottom of a bridge.
Clayton Boyce of industry trade group the American Trucking Associations told Fox News that “most trucking companies rely on GPS services that are specifically for trucks and route them away from restricted roads.” Those who do not may face catastrophic consequences.
Even though a GPS designed for trucking lines might help, some say that’s not a viable response to oversized trucks striking bridges. Gerald Donaldson, senior research director of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, includes GPS among driver distractions such as cell phones and computer keyboards for truckers.
Besides, road signs are posted to alert truckers to the same information about bridge heights as a GPS might provide. In Texas, such signs are posted three times in both directions two miles in advance of a bridge: at two miles out, one mile out and at the exit to the overpass.
Victims in an oversized truck crash into a bridge have legal rights. They can seek economic recovery for their losses by means of an injury lawsuit against the trucking line.
Our law firm can help you in this fight by providing you an 18-wheeler accident lawyer. Contact us today for a free case review.