A truck carrying hogs overturned in September 2008 on State Route 10 in Suffolk. (Submitted)
PETA has asked the state Department of Transportation to designate a portion of State Route 10 in southeastern Virginia as a highway safety corridor due to what the animal welfare group and locals say is a high rate of crashes involving hog trucks. A safety corridor designation on the road between U.S. Route 58 in Suffolk and SR 666 in Isle of Wight County would result in more warning signs for drivers, higher fines and increased police presence in the area, PETA says.
The section has been the site of more livestock tractor-trailer crashes than any similar length of road in the country, the group claims, with the most recent crash occurring on May 24.
PETA has documented nine such rollover crashes, which generally involve between 160 and 180 pigs, weighing about 275 to 300 pounds each. In each crash the truck has gone off the roadway and rolled onto its side, trapping many of the pigs in the trailer on top of one another. Some can pigs die on impact, while others are ejected from the trailer, PETA says. Injured animals are shot on site, the group says. Business owners along the corridor told 13News in May that the frequent wrecks create lengthy, disruptive blockages.
Smithfield did not respond to questions about the crashes. However, on Wednesday, The Smithfield Times reported that Smithfield Foods will move slaughtering operations, which amounted to 10,000 pigs a day, away from its Smithfield meatpacking plant. “There won’t be any hog trucks coming through town any more,” Mayor Carter Williams told the paper.
The crashes have resulted in some grisly scenes, said Daniel Paden, vice president of evidence analysis at PETA.
“It’s terrifying for the animals,” said Paden, who says he’s been at the scene of seven of the rollovers over the past 17 years. “The fear and the stress of it is tremendous. Many of the animals injured are obviously bloody and lacerated. I’ve seen many animals with broken limbs, and I’ve seen quite a few animals who have what’s called ‘rectal prolapse,’ which is where their intestines actually come out of their body from the impact and stress. It’s a terrible situation obviously for the driver and other motorists, and the police, but there’s no question that it’s most awful for the animals.”
Paden speculates that SR10 is so accident prone because of fatigue — most Smithfield truckers are driving from North Carolina “in the dark of night,” usually from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m., he said.
In response to PETA’s request, VDOT’s Hampton Roads District says it will conduct a “detailed safety study” on the road.
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“This study, expected to be completed this fall, will include reviewing crashes and locating hot spots, with specific emphasis put on tractor-trailer crashes” wrote Jordan-Ashley Walker, VDOT’s senior communications officer. “The completed corridor safety study will identify short, medium and long-term recommendations for safety enhancement.”
Regarding PETA’s specific safety corridor designation request, Walker wrote that “the only Highway Safety Corridors designated in Virginia, to date, have been on the interstate system. There have been no highway safety corridors designated on our Primary (roadway) System, such as Route 10.”
While Paden says increased scrutiny of the crashes is helpful, he acknowledges a safety corridor designation would be a marginal improvement at best.
“I don’t think it’s enough,” said Paden. “Unfortunately — and I think Smithfield Foods would agree — these crashes will continue to occur as long as people eat pigs. Still, my hope is that VDOT can do anything they can to help, for everyone’s benefit.”
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include reporting from The Smithfield Times on Smithfield Foods’ decision to shift slaughtering operations elsewhere.
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