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Speed and brake failure possible factors in Wolf Creek Pass crash that killed truck driver


A truck driver lost his life last week on a notorious stretch of winding mountain roadway in Colorado.

The Colorado State Patrol (CSP) responded to a single vehicle crash at 8:25 a.m. on Tuesday, September 21.

Troopers say that 54 year old truck driver Rifat Podzic was driving a 2010 Peterbilt with a trailer on Colorado Highway 160 near mile marker 160 in Mineral County when the crash occurred.

In an email to CDLLife, CSP explained:

“The preliminary investigation shows the vehicle traveling westbound on 160 at a high rate of speed (unknown speed currently) down a steep grade. The vehicle approached a sharp left curve and steered right, impacting a cement barrier and down the embankment, hitting several trees, and breaking the tractor. Mr. Podzic was ejected during this sequence.”

No other vehicles were involved.

“It is believed speed and possible brake fade/failure contributed to the crash.  No drugs/alcohol are suspected,” CSP said.

High Peaks Photography shared drone footage of the scene of the crash.

According to CSP, from 2015 to 2019, there were 47 semi truck crashes on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass. Three of those crashes resulted in fatalities.

See below for information for truckers from Colorado authorities on driving on Wolf Creek Pass.

Wolf Creek Pass 101

What is the speed limit? 

*The posted speed limit for traffic traveling westbound, downhill from the summit varies from 25 to 45 MPH. Commercial trucks must maintain the lower 25 MPH speed. 

What is the grade of the pass? 

*The west side of the pass is at a 7% downhill grade.

What is the distance from the summit to the west base? 

*The distance from the summit (near Wolf Creek Ski Area) to the west base of the pass (near Treasure Falls) is just over eight miles. 

What curves will drivers encounter? 

*A dangerous hairpin curve is located six and a half miles from the summit of Wolf Creek Pass.

Are there public access areas on the pass route? 

*A ski area, forest roads and a public scenic lookout are all points of access along US 160 Wolf Creek Pass in which truckers may encounter other vehicles attempting to enter or exit the roadway. 

Where are brake stations, chain-up stations and runaway ramps located? 

*Truck drivers should inspect their brakes at the summit, before descending the eight mile trip down the pass. A wide shoulder area is available to all motorists traveling both west and eastbound. This area can also be used as a chain-up station.

*Two runaway escape ramps are available for out-of-control trucks at mile points (MP) 162.5 and 161. (see runaway ramps details below)    

Other southwest/south-central Colorado passes include: US 550 Red Mountain, Molas and Coal Bank Passes; Colorado Highway (CO) 145 Lizard Head Pass; CO 17 La Manga-Cumbres Pass; and US 50 Monarch Pass. 

MAINTAIN CONTROL: Even the most experienced drivers should practice the utmost caution and safe driving practices to keep control of their vehicles.  

  • Check brakes before descending the pass. 
  • Maintain a low speed, in low gear. Use flashers to warn other vehicles of the truck’s low speed. 
  • Do not “ride” the truck’s brakes. This will cause overheating and possible loss of the brake system. 
  • Jake Brakes (or compression brakes) can be a useful braking mechanism to help control the speed of a heavy truck. However, the best practice is to remain in low gears to avoid overheating.   
  • Keep brakes cool by pulling into brake stations or onto the shoulder of the road, if a safe spot can be located.   

RUNAWAY RAMPS: Two runaway ramps are located on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass for trucks traveling downhill and westbound. These emergency escape ramps are located on the right side of the road and preceded by warning signs at each location. Both are incline ramps. 

  • Runaway Ramp, MP 162.5 – approximately 4.5 miles from the pass summit. 
  • Runaway Ramp, MP 161 – approximately 6 miles from the pass summit. This location is a trucker’s last chance to make a decision to use the ramp. 

If drivers are forced to use a runaway ramp: 

  • Maneuver the trucks into the far right lane before approaching upgrade ramps. 
  • As the truck approaches the runaway ramp, steer straight and try to keep the wheels aligned. 
  • Ramps are narrow. Attempt to stay in the center of the ramp to avoid any risk of rolling over. 
  • Once the truck is stopped, call 911 to report the incident, even if there are no injuries associated with the episode.

NEVER HESITATE: “If a truck driver has lost control, there should never be a hesitation to use the runaway ramps,” Capt. Driscoll emphasized. “If a truck’s brakes fail due to overheating or excessive use going downhill, runaway ramps are the only way the truck will be able to stop.”


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