New numbers show dangers for truck drivers on the road

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KINGDOM CITY - Trucker by day and musician by night, Dan G. Smith said the last thing he wants to worry about is danger of the roadways. 

So he takes precautions. 

"They push safety 24/7. It's really pushed hard in everything that we do and it works," Smith said. "After a while, it works. You just remember to chop the wheels, wear the orange vest, and try to avoid unnecessary altercations." 

Smith said one problem some truck drivers deal with is sleep deprivation. 

"A lot of guys basically fall asleep at the wheel. That a big thing right now." Smith said. "They just have to be sure to get a lot of rest and be alert." 

Another issue Smith said he sees deals with cell phone usage. 

"A lot of people in cars are rocking the cell phones and not paying attention to what they're doing." Smith said. "But we don't. We would never text and drive. That's unheard of in my circle."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were an estimated 317,000 motor vehicle crashes involving large trucks in the U.S. in 2012. The study said these crashes resulted in 700 deaths of truck drivers or their passengers. The report said one in six drivers of large trucks didn't use their seat belts in 2013. More than one in three truck drivers who died in crashes in 2012 were not wearing seat belts. The CDC said buckling up could have prevented up to 40 percent of these deaths.

But Smith said these statistics don't sound right. 

"I don't believe that! These guys out here have wives and kids and families just like I do and they're out working. It's a career." Smith said. "I think we're safe." 

Warren Thompson, who has independently been driving trucks across the country for six years, said he believes the CDC's numbers. 

He said, "I think it happens some. A lot of it is going to depend on the weather and other people's driving as well as their reaction to what's happening on the roads."

Thompson said he has seen some fatal accidents in Oklahoma, where he lives when he isn't driving a truck. 

"That was because a car crossed a lane and hit a semi head on," he said. 

The biggest thing he worries about when driving the truck is making sure he can stop, he said. He carries a heavy load and he said he knows he has to have a good distance between himself and the car ahead of him. 

"I have been in a situation where something happens up ahead and everyone slammed on their breaks and I had to get on my breaks harder than I wanted to to be able to stop behind them.," Thompson said. "It definitely rattles you." 

Amanda Gionetto and Mackenzie Garrett are doing a year long road trip so they're familiar with being around trucks on the roadways. The women said they don't usually fear a truck's presence, but in certain situations they get nervous. 

"When you're boxed in, that's scary. But I try not to get in those situations," Gionetto said. 

Garrett said, "Late at night sometimes you see some swerving and you cringe."

The women said the scariest situation with trucks on their road trip has been on mountain passes with skinny and curvy roads. But they said they think truck drivers are the best trained drivers on the roadways so they usually know how to stay safe.