By Russ and Tiña De Maris
A set of freakish coincidences have sped up the thinking of Utah’s Department of Transportation regarding runaway truck ramps. In less than a year, three commercial trucks have come to grief after having blasted down U.S. Highway 89 in Garden City, Utah, and across a T-intersection.
The first was in October 2018, when a driver blasted his rig into a sporting goods store, and sadly ended the driver’s life. Two more trucks in similar circumstances at the bottom of the same hill followed within 10 months, both within a week of each other. All three rigs had brake failure, and the latter two rigs “bulldozed” storage units at the accident scene.
What’s to be done when you don’t have sufficient “real estate” to put in a runaway truck ramp, loaded with sand and gravel to provide an out for a runaway? Utah engineers are looking into building not a runaway ramp, but rather a “runaway containment” system.
Modeled after a unique system first unveiled in Wyoming, the system funnels runaway rigs down a chute, criss-crossed with a series of cable nets. When the oncoming rig hits a net, the cables attached to the net unspool, slowing the vehicle’s velocity.
Before the first fatal Garden City incident, Utah engineers had contacted Wyoming to schedule a visit to get a firsthand look at its containment system. By coincidence, the visit took place the day following the first (and fatal) Garden City truck accident.
The visitors took a stroll through the chute, and stepped back up to their vehicles. A sign was lit up, indicating the chute was fair game for runaway trucks, and in less than 10 minutes, the engineers got to see an unscheduled live demonstration when a big rig lost its brakes and bailed off the highway and into the chute. The driver survived, and the engineers must have had more than just a head-shake.
The runaway containment system isn’t as friendly as the standard “sand and gravel” ramp. Front-end damage to the rig as likely, but compared to blasting off a mountainside or into oncoming vehicles or buildings, using a runaway containment system seems like a better choice.