Safety Issues



It was a clear summer afternoon, and Jerry (not his real name) was on his way to his next work assignment.  His utility truck was packed with everything he needed for the next week.   It was about 4 p.m., and he’d been on the road for four hours.  He had more than two hours of driving to go before settling in for the night and starting work at 3 the next morning.  

Jerry, aged 37, was an experienced diesel mechanic who had served in the armed services for over 10 years prior to his current employment with a railroad franchise. He worked on a crew that serviced all equipment travelling the rail tracks in a multi-state area of the Midwest. His duties included conducting conduct inspections, maintenance, and repair on diesel locomotives. He ordinarily worked one week on / one week off, and on the day of this incident, was travelling 400 miles to his next assignment in a neighboring state. He was the driver and sole occupant of a company-owned eight-ton, two-axle straight truck that was fully equipped with all the equipment needed for his job.


Jerry was driving eastbound in the right lane of a straight section of four-lane interstate highway with gently rolling terrain.  The posted speed limit was 70 miles per hour.

Jerry crested a slight hill revealing a mile’s visibility of interstate.  One-half mile ahead at the bottom of the hill, traffic was backed up at least as far as the next hill.  The vehicles far ahead of him had already reduced speed and were proceeding slowly or completely stopped.  The cause of this backup was a car fire two miles further downstream.  Emergency responders and a fire truck were on site, and law enforcement units were directing east-bound traffic into a single lane around the fire.

By the time he noticed the backed up traffic ahead of him and slammed on his brakes, it was way too late.  Jerry’s utility truck struck the rear of the tractor-trailer that was creeping slowly in the right lane.  Upon impact, Jerry’s truck intruded into the trailer up to the trailer’s rear axles.  The force of this underride collision drove both vehicles into the rear of a second tractor-trailer that was stopped in the right lane.  Eye-witnesses called 911, and emergency responders arrived within minutes.  Jerry was pronounced dead at the scene.  The utility truck was removed to a towing site and the decedent was extricated by mechanical means.  Drivers of the other trucks were not seriously injured.



The law enforcement agents present at the towing site where Jerry was extricated observed that Jerry was holding a cell phone in his left hand.  Examination of the cell phone contents showed the dates, times, and content of voice and text messages.  Jerry had been involved in a text conversation for two hours prior to the collision and was initiating a message at the time of the crash. 

Investigation of the crash site, vehicle positions, and pre- and post-impact skid marks revealed that Jerry applied his brakes immediately before striking the semi ahead of him.  The front pillar of his cab was pushed over five feet back into the driver compartment, causing fatal injuries.  No other conditions related to weather, road surface, environment, or vehicle defects were identified as contributing causes to this incident. 

The cause of this fatality was identified as distracted driving due to cell phone use/texting.  Upon cresting the hill, there was adequate visibility, time, and distance to recognize the hazardous situation ahead to reduce speed prior to an emergency.  

  1. Drivers should use cell phones and wireless communications devices only after pulling off the roadway and parking their vehicle.
  2. Drivers should maintain a safe following distance, adjusting for weather, traffic, road conditions, and visibility.  
  3. Employers should implement policies banning use of cell phones and in-vehicle technologies while driving.
  4. States should adopt and enforce laws prohibiting the use of cell phones and wireless devices while driving.

Department of Occupational and Environmental Health

The University of Iowa College of Public Health
UI Research Park, 240 IREH
Iowa City, IA 52242-5000

Safety Issues is presented by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in partnership with the National Truckers Association (NTA), with major contributions from State partners funded by NIOSH through the Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program.  The goal of the FACE Program is to prevent occupational fatalities across the nation by identifying and investigating work situations at high risk for injury and then developing and disseminating prevention strategies to those who can intervene in the workplace.  State partners who contribute Safety Issues postings based on recent investigative reports are California, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, New Jersey, and Washington.

This month’s Safety Issues is based on an investigative report from the Iowa FACE Program.  The complete detailed Iowa FACE INVESTIGATION REPORT:  #2012 IA 041 includes additional case information, recommendations and discussion.  This report can be found at information on the Iowa FACE Program, including additional Iowa FACE Investigation Reports, Hazard Alerts and fatality summaries can be accessed at

The Safety Issues and Investigation Reports which are the products of NIOSH Cooperative State partners are presented here in their original unedited form from the states.  They are intended for educational purposes only.  The findings and conclusions in each report are those of the individual Cooperative State partner and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the NIOSH