After a couple of recent crashes involving log trucks, drivers in Webster Parish could be forgiven if they are more than a little cautious when they see a big rig hauling logs approaching.
"It's a perception thing, really. With an 18-wheeler, you can't see inside the box (trailer). But with a log truck, those logs are sticking out and they're stacked pretty high. It is pretty intimidating for a driver in a conventional size vehicle," Louisiana State Police Trooper Brett Davis said.
Locally, a pair of log trucks turned over, spilling their loads onto the roadway. On La. Hwy. 531 south of Dubberly, a log truck overturned entering a curve, dumping its load onto the road and nearly on top of an SUV driven by a parish school teacher.
In that accident, both the driver of the SUV and the log truck escaped serious injury although one portion of a log penetrated the SUV's windshield.
"You can say both of those individuals were very, very lucky," Davis said.
A few days later, a truck lost its load of logs onto La. 159 (Lewisville Rd.) north of Minden when the bolsters (metal support poles on the side of the trailer) snapped.
"The cause of that accident was a little unusual," Davis said. "Driver error is the problem most of the time, not the equipment."
Even when a log hauler's equipment is brand new, spillage is going to occur in certain crashes, Davis said.
"Laws pertaining to logs are very specific as to how loads shall be secured. The height is not supposed to exceed the bolsters and additional measures help secure the logs. But in a rollover, chains and other supports aren't going to hold those logs," he said.
Driver distraction is probably the major cause of accidents involving big rigs, log haulers included, Davis said.
"They could be eating...normally they eat as they go down the line. Cell phones are not supposed to be a problem because the federal motor carrier law says a driver can't have a cell phone, even in their hand," he explained. "We will cite you for that. You can only use it to call 911. Also, driver fatigue can be a problem."
Davis said one of the major changes in the log hauling industry has been improvement in the equipment. Officers in the motor carrier safety assistance program (MCSAP) carefully monitor the trucking industry in each state police region, checking driver qualification in addition to the equipment.
"It boils down to safety...it's not about the numbers (writing tickets) for us," he said. "I have three boys and I don't want them out there being run over by trucks."
Inspections of big rigs feature three levels, Davis said. Level one is the most intense.
"In a level one inspection, we climb under the truck and measure the brakes, check the tires...anything which can effect the truck is inspected," Davis said. "In level two, we perform a walk around and violations will be whatever we see. Level three is a paperwork check only."
If a driver is cited, the specific area covered by the citation must be addressed before the truck returns to work the next dispatch day unless it's out of service, Davis said.
More log trucks seem to be on the roadways now than in the past few months, Davis said.
"The price of wood is back up, companies are harvesting more wood and more companies are out there hauling," he said. "People notice them more. When people see big trucks, they should exercise a little more caution...a little more patience. It's all a part of the safety of driving."