ATLANTA - An outspoken truck safety advocate, whose son was killed by a speeding truck, is calling on Congress and the federal government to require collision-avoidance systems in all tractor-trailer trucks following a crash Wednesday near Savannah that killed five nursing school students.
"That technology certainly would have, at the worst case, seriously reduced the violence of this crash and saved the lives of all those girls. I believe in most cases, it prevents the crash altogether," said Road Safe America founder Stephen Owings.
The five Georgia Southern University students, riding in two cars, died when a tractor-trailer failed to stop for traffic slowed by a prior accident on Interstate 16 in Bryan County. Georgia State Patrol is investigating the crash and possible charges are pending against the driver.
Owings shares a tragic bond with the families of the crash victims. His son Cullum was returning to college in 2002 when a truck failed to stop behind congested traffic.
"A tractor trailed plowed into the back of him, and killed him at the scene. It was the worst day of our lives, very similar, tragically, to the worst day of these five families," said Owings.
Owings turned his anguish into action. His truck safety advocacy organization has been pushing for speed governors on trucks and mandatory collision-avoidance systems like those that are standard equipment on most new cars. Sensors detect if a collision is imminent and, if the driver does not apply his brakes, the system takes over the brakes and engine to avoid a crash.
"It's unacceptable that it's not required on our heaviest commercial vehicles," said Owings.
If collision-avoidance systems are required, Owings says the cost to retro-fit trucks would be a few hundred dollars per truck.
Road Safe America also has spearheaded new regulations that would reduce hours for truck drivers. Currently, drivers can be behind the wheel for 11 hours at a time but can work up to 80 hours per week.
"We want them to be alert, well-rested and paying attention. Obviously this truck driver and the one that killed our son were not doing those things," Owings said.
Some trucking organizations have opposed some of Owings' proposals. An independent trucking association says forcing truck drivers to go slower than other traffic would lead to an increase in accident rates.
Owings says truck safety improvement will only happen quickly if citizens demand action from their legislators.
He also wished to extend his sympathies to the families of the five students killed in the south Georgia crash.
"We feel their pain. They will never be the same, and I'm so sorry," said Owings.