PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – After a commercial semi-truck driver crashed into a passenger van and killed seven people on I-5 near Albany, he was charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants and admitted to using speed the day before.
But some truck drivers in the industry say that a few people’s actions have given them a bad rap, and the industry’s seen safer and tighter restrictions in recent years.
Tyler Reisnaur, the general manager of the Elite Truck School in Hillsboro, runs a local training program that prepares drivers for their commercial drivers license.
He said there are several federal regulations for truck drivers, such as one that passed in Feb 2022 requiring drivers to pass in-depth classroom and behind-the-wheel training.
“Average car weighs maybe 3,000 pounds. A standard semi-truck on the road is 80,000,” Reisnaur said. “It’s significantly heavier, which means there’s the potential for much more damage and bigger accidents to happen with catastrophic results if drivers aren’t trained well and aren’t held to a really high standard for safety.”
Reisnaur said the program is about four weeks long and requires three different tests: one written test, one third-party skills test and one final DMV test.
And he said the training often doesn’t stop there.
“There’s still a ton to learn depending on what segment of the industry you go into, so there’s going to be a lot more training,” Reisnaur said.
But on May 18, police allege that semi-truck driver Lincoln Clayton Smith had been impaired when he hit the back of a white passenger van – killing seven and injuring three others.
Prosecutors say Smith was found with meth on him and containers of nitrous oxide inhalants in the truck. Witnesses say they saw him weaving in and out of the shoulder beforehand and didn’t see brake lights used.
“Out of 11, only four survivors. There’s no words for that,” said Iris Gomora, whose mom was seriously injured in the crash.
Reisnaur says the select people who violate safety rules can give truckers a bad rap, but it doesn’t represent the industry as a whole.
“A bad accident typically gets a lot of notoriety, a lot of news coverage, because of the seriousness,” he said. “There’s hundreds of thousands, millions of commercial drivers out on the roads every day and a lot of people are doing a good job at keeping the roads safe.”
According to data compiled and provided by the Oregon Department of Transportation, the site of the crash was located in a two-mile stretch of I-5 that has seen a number of crashes in the past couple years.
The state’s most recent crash data – from early 2017 through the end of 2021 – reported 136 crashes along that stretch, including three fatalities. The data show at least 22 of those crashes also involved trucks, but did not clarify fault or conditions related to each crash.