An Indiana truck driver told police she didn39t know how to convert the weight of her vehicle from pounds to tons before driving her 30 ton tractortrailer over a historic bridge collapsing it Photo Orange County Indiana Law Enforcement Facebook page

An Indiana truck driver told police she didn't know how to convert the weight of her vehicle from pounds to tons before driving her 30 ton tractor-trailer over a historic bridge, collapsing it. (Photo: Orange County Indiana Law Enforcement Facebook page)

Truck drivers and math: a weighty problem

Father brag moment: My son is on his elementary school’s math team. Why do I tell you that? Because I learned long ago that math is important and I have been trying to tell my children that. There’s an old saying that people who are no good at math become journalists.

As I learned very early in my journalism career, math is very important. From budget meetings to sports statistics, a journalist can’t get away from math.

Recently, we learned that neither can truckers.

I’m sure by now many people have seen the photo of an Indiana trucker who tried to drive her truck over a historic southern Indiana bridge in Paoli. She didn’t make it, collapsing the 135-year-old structure.

While 23-year-old Mary Lambright has been cited by police for the mistake, the reasons it occurred are troubling, and more importantly, indicate how important the entry-level driver training rule is to the trucking industry.

Here’s how Orange County Indiana Law Enforcement explained the situation on its Facebook page:

On December 25, 2015, on or about 1200 hours, Mary Lambright, 23 year old female from Fredericksburg, Indiana was driving a 2015 Volvo Semi Truck with a 53 foot box trailer containing 43,000 pounds of bottled water. Ms. Lambright stated her intentions were to park her semi in the parking lot of the Paoli Wal-Mart. Lambright entered the square from East Main Street and missed the exit heading to Wal-Mart and exited onto West Main Street. Ms. Lambright then turned left onto Southwest 1st Street in an attempt to turn around. She travel down Southwest 1st and turned left onto South Gospel Street. She made several attempts to turn left on to South Oak Street but was unsuccessful. Ms. Lambright was aware of a parking lot further north on South Gospel Street and determined she could turn the truck around in the lot to get back to Southwest 1st Street. When she approached the parking lot she discovered it was full of heavy equipment and could not use it to turn around. Ms. Lambright was aware of the iron bride stating she had driven on it several times in her personal vehicle and was also aware of the posted signage “no semis, weight limit of 6 tons.”

When Paoli Police questioned Ms. Lambright about the incident, she told them she “wasn’t comfortable backing the semi up” and also did not know how to convert her vehicle’s weight, which was in pounds, into tons, which was how the bridge was labeled.

According to police, Lambright earned her CDL on May 12, 2015. After going through training and testing to get her CDL (it’s not clear what that training involved), and driving for nearly 9 months, Lambright was not comfortable backing the vehicle up, in part leading to her decision to cross the bridge rather than back the truck up and find a different route.

That in itself is a troublesome statement and an indictment of how easy it is to get a CDL under current standards. The final rule that is expected any time on entry level driver training (and one many in the industry has been pushing for) should help alleviate some of that problem. The rule, which went through a negotiated rulemaking process, should include more behind-the-wheel training than current standards require, according to both ATA and TCA, who were involved in the process.

Maybe, though, when those new training rules come out, they will include math classes as well. If a driver can’t make the conversion from pounds to tons - or doesn’t know how to use Google to look up the answer – before driving over a bridge or road with a weight limit, they shouldn’t be driving.

It turns out, like my mother always said, math is important.

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