AKRON-Lee Newhouse has seizures, is blind in one eye, deaf in one ear and requires home care after a wheel that broke off of a tractor trailer in San Diego crashed through the windshield of his Toyota, Oct. 17, 1993. This Oct. 15-nearly three years after that fateful day-Mr. Newhouse reached a $6.25 million settlement with a number of the companies blamed for the accident.
In a deposition given before the settlement, the teenaged mechanic who worked on the vehicle two days before the accident testified that he was unaware of the required torque for the wheels on which he'd been working.
The case is a tragic example of what can go wrong with an improperly installed commercial truck wheel. But nearly 2,500 miles away, the Province of Ontario hopes it has found a way to prevent similar accidents from occurring.
Starting Nov. 1, most individuals who work on commercial vehicle wheels will be required to have passed an eight-hour certification course.
The mandatory training program, developed by the Ontario Trucking Association, together with tire and wheel industry representatives, and approved by the ministries of Transportation and Education. It is believed to be the first of its kind in North America.
Everyone in the province who services wheels on commercial vehicles weighing 9,000 kilograms (19,800 pounds) or more are required to have been certified by Nov. 1 except owner-operators, Class A mechanics and drivers in emergency situations, according to Paul Switzer of Switzer's Tire Service Training Consultants in Bancroft, Ontario.
Class A mechanics already are licensed under a 3,000-hour course that includes training on truck wheels, Mr. Switzer said.
The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) believes about 1,500 technicians work on truck wheels on a day-to-day basis. But employees who remove and install truck wheels at operations such as spring and paint shops also require certification, according to Rolf VanderZwaag, OTA maintenance and technical adviser and author of the new training program.
In total, about 5,000 to 6,000 people probably will need certification, said Mr. Switzer, who currently is among the 170 instructors providing the training.
Employees need 480 hours or equivalent experience in a tire or wheel operation before enrolling for the certification program, Mr. VanderZwaag said.
The eight-hour course requires a $60 certification fee. (All amounts are in Canadian dollars.) Trainees also must pay for their instructors' time, bringing the total bill to around $150, he said.
The course covers: inspection of wheel components; preparation prior to installation; and correct installation and torquing.
``The training we are providing here should be part of the base of knowledge anybody doing this work has,'' Mr. VanderZwaag said.
Just how the program will be enforced has yet to be determined, he said.
For now, Mr. VanderZwaag said pressure from insurance companies and trucking fleets should provide the impetus for training.
``That's probably the biggest means of enforcement-no trucking company will take the risk of (using) a non-certified company,'' he said.
The Ministry of Labor also is able to shut down a business that is deemed to use unsafe practices, added Mr. Switzer. Eventually, fines may be imposed on employers of non-certified mechanics.
The certification program was adopted following a jury's recommendation at the end of a month-long coroner's inquest into the 1995 deaths of two Ontario motorists in separate collisions with runaway truck wheels.
The jury produced 31 recommendations to improve highway safety, the first of which was the establishment of the mandatory training and certification program.
Among the other recommendations, the jury suggested:
Tagging wheels after installation with re-torquing specifications in order to ensure re-torquing is performed on time;
Educating truck owners and drivers on the consequences of not performing a 27-point pre-trip inspection; and
Having mechanics ``red tag'' trucks and trailers with hazardous defects.
To date, only the certification program has come to fruition, Mr. Switzer said.
The Ontario Trucking Association, which is administering the self-funded program, currently is developing a more comprehensive course that could be offered as new technicians come into the tire industry, according to Mr. Switzer.
Representatives from the other Canadian provinces, as well as the International Tire and Rubber Association, have expressed interest in the certification program, Mr. VanderZwaag said.