SAFETY FOR CENTS?
KOMO News - Seattle, Washington by Liz Rocca
It happened in the blink of an eye. The double wheels of a big-rig trailer broke free and tumbled across busy Interstate 5.
John Ellis - a young husband and new father working three jobs to support his family - was riding in a van locked on a tragic collision course with a 500-pound bullet.
"He saw it coming," said his widow, Bristol Kvernenes. "I hate that that's probably his last thought in his life."
John's co-worker was behind the wheel and tried to swerve, but it was hopeless. The runaway tires smashed through the passenger side windshield. "That's the last thing he saw in this world," Bristol said. Bristol said he never got to see the picture of his 4-month-old baby, Suki, taken the very day he died. Instead those tires were the last thing he saw before bearing the fatal brunt of their crushing weight.
"I just screamed, I just screamed," Bristol said. "Your mind goes in a thousand different directions trying to make sense of it, and there is no sense to be made." John's dad, Arthur Ellis, said the the terrible accident should not have happened. "I pray it doesn't happen to anyone else," he said.
Safety risks on the road
But the Problem Solvers found potential disaster racing down the road every day. We analyzed Washington State Patrol inspection records and found more than 2,200 big rigs in just the last two years running with faulty wheels.
Among the problems:
Rich Griebel, a commercial vehicle enforcement officer with the State Patrol, says the public is at risk when trucks aren't in working order.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, loose lug nuts are the number-one cause of runaway wheels. When the wheels come off their movement is unpredictable and the force of their impact is devastating.
Griebel said truckers are required to inspect their rigs before and after each trip, including a hand check of all lug nuts. Yet, of the 2,200 trucks found with faulty wheels in 2007 and 2008, nearly 600 were such a safety risk that enforcement officers pulled them from the road.
"It's basically neglect," Griebel said "They haven't checked the truck out."
A simple fix?
But the Problem Solvers have learned about a 65-cent piece of plastic that could hold the key to safety for just cents.
"Wheel Check" fits on each lug nut pointing in the same direction. If a lug is loose the arrow will move, providing a visual alert to the driver that there's a problem.
We found them on Allied Waste garbage trucks.
"To be able to tell real quickly that there's no loose lug nuts is real helpful," said Marvin Zylstra, who drives for allied Waste. Allied safety Manager Greg White said the Wheel Checks go "a long way in reducing your risk when you're out on the road." Wheel Checks are mandatory for all 104 refuse haulers at Waste Management, where drivers check their rigs twice a day. And Community Transit, which carries 200,000 passengers a week, is also using them. All three say using Wheel Checks has detected loose lugs on their fleets and averted disaster.
So why are only a handful of Northwest companies using them when the stakes are so high? "Sixty-five cents seems like a small price to pay for peace of mind," says Bristol. She thinks about the toll the accident took on her and her now two-year-old daughter Suki.
"She's never going to have her dad walk her down the aisle when she gets married you know she's never going to know him and that breaks my heart," she said. "I'd give anything for another day."
The American Trucking Association, which represents nearly 40,000 trucking companies, says it has no plans to use Wheel Check because they say is no laboratory test that proves it works.
Wheel Check says a test isn't necessary. They're relying on hundreds of testimonials from customers who say the little device helped them detect loose lugs and avert disaster.
WHEEL-CHECK®: High visibility loose wheel-nut indicator
WHEEL-TORQUE: Red torque indicator used to mark a nut has backed off, and maintenance is aware of the problem
WHEEL-CHECK®, HIGH TEMPERATURE: Loose wheel-nut indicator that withstands higher temperatures
WHEEL-CHECK®, CUSTOM COLORS: Custom colors and sizes are available upon special request.
© All Rights Reserved. WHEEL-CHECK®, THE LOOSE WHEEL-NUT INDICATOR. "25 years helping roads to be safer."
*The use of Wheel-Check® in no way guarantees wheel-offs will NOT occur.