According to local police, a converted semi-trailer was carrying 18 people as it traveled down Interstate 35, southeast of Kansas City: many of the occupants were members of an extended family from Minnesota who were returning home after taking a vacation with friends to see a motocross event in Texas. At the time of the accident, 17 year-old Adam Kerber was driving the converted Freightliner box truck, which had been modified to include living quarters and included a storage area for motocross equipment. The crash report indicates that Kerber veered off the road and then overcorrected, causing the truck to strike a guard rail and a concrete bridge rail before it overturned and plunged nearly 30 feet down into a ravine.
5 occupants were confirmed dead at the scene: 25 year-old Tom Kerber, 24 year-old Melissa Kerber, 14 year-old Joy Kerber, 12 year-old James Kerber, and 10 year-old Jessica Kerber. All of the other occupants suffered various levels of injury: Adam Kerber was in critical condition on Monday morning, while his mother, 46 year-old Pauline Kerber remains in critical but stable condition. According to Minnesota news outlets, Pauline Kerber is a widowed mother of 12. The other occupants, ranging between ages 2 and 30, remain hospitalized at Overland Park Regional Medical Center and Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.
Since the accident, it has been reported that Adam Kerber was in possession of a provisional driver's license. Under ordinary circumstances, he would've been unable to drive the truck legally because of its weight and the number of occupants it carried. However, in Minnesota, there's a loophole related to private RVs. Several sources indicate that the modified trailer did not have seatbelts, but here again, Minnesota law only requires seat belts in a vehicle's front seat.
The Associated Press reports that John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association, stressed the importance of training and experience when operating large trucks. While he would not comment specifically on the Kerber accident, he said that professional truck drivers require extensive preparation "to handle the physics of driving a larger vehicle. They receive training with regard to stopping distances, following distances, blind spots and other aspects of maneuvering with a large vehicle."
The accident remains under investigation. While we still don't have all the facts about this particular crash, we do know that teen drivers are the most at-risk age group for car accidents. Their lack of driving experience makes it difficult for them to react quickly and appropriately to unexpected situations and hazards, so they're more prone to overcorrection. We also know that large trucks handle differently than smaller vehicles - they distribute weight differently, steer differently, and require more distance to slow down and speed up. Finally, we know that large trucks can be unbelievably destructive when they're involved in accidents, as this accident and many others have demonstrated.
We urge parents to remain actively involved in their teen drivers' training and hands-on experience. Often, we expect young drivers to be capable of making quick decisions and skilled maneuvers, when it takes time and practice to develop those abilities. For information to help you guide your teen's driving experience and education, check out these resources:
• 3 critical skills your teen driver lacks: Fox Business, March 30, 2012
• Teen drivers need more education: Green Bay Press Gazette, April 1, 2012
• Car Crashes Are The Leading Cause Of Fatal Head Trauma Among Teens: Forbes, April 2, 2012
• Teen Driver Source: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Research Institute
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