February 25, 2014

Will new program protect your family against impaired truck drivers?

In 2003, a 15-year-old girl who had been in Brownies with my daughter was killed when her family’s vehicle was rear-ended by a tractor trailer on an interstate highway. She was riding in the back seat en route to a summer camp. The truck driver was charged with DUI. That event is in the back of my mind whenever a question arises of whether a truck driver may have been impaired at the time of a crash.

To be clear, most interstate truck drivers are highly responsible, safety conscious and would never dream of driving when impaired from alcohol or drugs.

But there are those who use stimulants, sometimes including meth or cocaine, to stay up for long driving hours, or who get behind the wheel after drinking. Others use either prescription or over the counter drugs which can affect attentiveness.

Aware of that risk, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require mandatory post-accident alcohol and drug tests whenever anyone is killed or removed from that crash scene by ambulance, and when any vehicle is towed from a wreck with an interstate commercial vehicle and when.

Until now, however, there has not been an easy way to check on whether a truck driver has a history of driving under the influence.

On February 20th, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a proposed rule that would establish a database of drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) who have failed or refused to take a drug or alcohol test. This clearinghouse may help improve roadway safety by making it easier to determine whether a truck or bus driver is prohibited from operating a commercial motor vehicle for failing to comply with federal drug and alcohol regulations, including mandatory testing.

Current federal regulations require employers to conduct mandatory pre-employment screening of CDL driver qualifications based upon their driving record. However, there are not been a single federal repository recording positive drug and alcohol tests by CDL holder that employers would be able to search to ensure the driver is able to perform at a job where safety is the number one concern.

“Safety is our highest priority, and we will continue to embrace new tools and opportunities that protect the travelers on our nation's roads," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "Today's proposal will help ensure dangerous drivers stay off the road, while encouraging the employment of the many safe drivers who follow our drug and alcohol requirements."

The proposed rule would give employers access to invaluable information with ease. The new rule also require employers to conduct pre-employment searches through the repository for all new CDL drivers and annual searched on drivers they currently employ.

"We are leveraging technology to create a one-stop verification point to help companies hire drug and alcohol-free drivers," said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. "This proposal moves us further down the road toward improving safety for truck and bus companies, commercial drivers and the motoring public everywhere."

Under the proposed regulation, FMCSA-regulated truck and bus companies, Medical Review Officers, Substance Abuse Professionals, and private third-party USDOT drug and alcohol testing laboratories would be required to record information about any driver who:

• Fails a drug and/or alcohol test
• Refuses to submit a drug and/or alcohol test; and
• Successfully completes a substance abuse program and is legally qualified to return to duty.

Private, third-party USDOT drug and alcohol testing laboratories would also be required to report summary information annually so that they can help identify companies that do not have a testing program. To ensure the privacy of the drivers involved, each CDL holder would need to provide their consent before an employer could access the clearinghouse.

Drivers who refuse to provide their testing information could still be employed by the truck or bus company; however, they could not occupy safety-sensitive positions such as operating a commercial motor vehicle.

It is a violation of federal regulations to drive a truck or bus under the influence of a controlled substance or under the influence of alcohol. Federal safety regulations require that truck and bus companies that employ CDL drivers conduct random drug and alcohol testing programs. Carriers must randomly test 10 percent of their CDL drivers for alcohol and 50 percent of their CDL drivers for drugs each year.

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October 23, 2013

Good truck drivers sound off about rogue trucking companies pushing them to break the law

As a trucking accident personal injury and wrongful death lawyer based in Atlanta, I get a chance to see the trucking safety issues from the point of view of both innocent folks who are run over by tractor trailers and truck drivers who are themselves put at risk by companies that care too little about safety.

A blogging truck driver at Go By Truck News wrote this week that "A rogue motor carrier is a truck driver's worst nightmare."

He wrote that last year, D.A. Landis Trucking, Inc. was charged with conspiracy for ordering drivers to falsify their daily logbooks, maintain two sets of logs, falsely certify accuracy of the lying logs, had dispatchers also knowingly dispatched drivers on trips that were truck accidentto exceed hours-of-service requirements.

That is old news to those of us who have been digging through truck drivers' logs and trip documents and both deposing and interviewing truck drivers.

He also gathered these tweets from tired truck drivers:

– “My dispatcher goes retarded when I tried to tell them I have only 1 hr left to drive.”

– “I have heard this from many dispatchers before. Come on we need you for one more.”

– “When it comes to driving we have 65mph trks n 100mph dispatchers with 26 hrs in a day!”

– “Dispatch was kind enough to plan my first load for 4am central time. My paperwork is invalid and dispatch won’t be in for another 3 hrs.”

Go By Truck News urges truck drivers to check the safety records of any company they consider working for, and to make sure they know the rules, including these:

FMCSR 392.6 Schedules to conform with speed limits. “No motor carrier shall require a run nor permit nor require the operation of any commercial motor vehicle between points in such period of time as would necessitate the commercial vehicle being operated at speed greater than those prescribed by the jurisdictions in or through which the commercial motor vehicle is being operated.”

FMCSR 390.13 Aiding or abetting violations. “No person shall aid, abet, encourage, or require a motor carrier or its employees to violate the rules of this chapter.”

FMCSR 392.3 Ill or fatigued operator. “No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.” (This regulation was mentioned in my prior article and worth repeating again here).

He is spot on in stating that, "A good safety director will educate a driver about these regulations, rewarding and not penalizing a driver for declining to take a load if they are too fatigued. A good company with a pattern of safe behavior will give a trucker an opportunity to develop a disciplined sleep routine."

He urges that, "it’s often the employer / load planner / dispatcher pushing the trucker beyond their limits. However, all truckers should take a stand with the Trucker Mike’s 'Mantra' – 'I will NEVER let anyone ‘push’ me, instead I’ll be fired for being SAFE if need be!'”

This afternoon, my friend Steve Gursten in Michigan forwarded this plea he received from a truck driver who wants to drive safely but works for a rogue trucking company that won't allow him to follow the law:

The company that I drive for has me doing illegal runs. I feel if I don't do them my miles will be cut or they will find a way to get rid of me. I need to care for my family. I have been too many companies and they are all the same. The one I'm with now is the worst. I'm looking for other employment and coping the best I can. Is there anyone I can talk to like a whistle blower organization? Or maybe a letter too the sec of transportation? Companies, dispatchers, shippers and receivers need to be held accountable. Until we have better legislation in place to address this, us truckers will always be at the bottom of the hill. And of course we know which direction s##t rolls.

Wow!

That is right in line with my impression over the years that most truck drivers are just ordinary good guys working hard to make a living, but are too often pushed by employers, motor carriers, shippers, brokers, etc., to make illegal runs on impossible schedules, so that they are often pushed beyond the limits of human endurance.

That is why I generally try to handle these cases by digging for a root cause analysis in the corporate safety management system -- or lack thereof.

I suggested referring this guy to Truckers Justice Center in Minnesota, operated by a lawyer who represents whistle blowing truck drivers nationwide

If your or a family member were run over by a tractor trailer, or if you are a truck driver badly injured in the line of duty, I would be glad to talk with you with no obligation.



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October 18, 2013

Congress requires FMCSA to set rules on sleep apnea testing and treatment for truck drivers

Despite the political gridlock and recent shutdown of the federal government, Congress has managed to pass legislation to address the danger of sleep apnea in the trucking industry. At this writing, it awaits the President's signature.

House Resolution 3095 is a simple, two-page bill sponsored by two members of Congress sped through Congress. It requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to commit to formal rule making on sleep apnea testing and treatment for truckers and other professional drivers.

The trucking industry, predictably enough, estimates that “the impact of screening, diagnosis, and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea could exceed $1 billion annually.” But that is a bargain compared to the carnage on the highways due to drivers of 80,000 pound tractor trailers falling asleep at the wheel.

The downside of this, warns my friend Michael Leizerman in Ohio, is that by requiring the FMCSA to go through full rulemaking and cost-benefit analysis when addressing screening, testing or treatment of sleep apnea, it may delay rather than speed up efforts to address the very real problem of sleep apnea. As Michael pointed out in a recent blog post, the FMCSA has already published the online Fatigue Management Training program and has many simple and inexpensive ideas to make fatigue awareness part of a motor carrier’s safety culture.

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to fatigued driving and is thus a medically disqualifying condition for truck drivers. FMCSR 391.41(b)(5). We have seen too many cases in which our clients were run over by truck drivers who were often good folks but were dangerous behind the wheel due to fatigue, drowsiness and untreated sleep apnea.

As Michael Leizerman has pointed out, this legislation requires the FMCSA to go through a full rule making process which will add years of delay to the implementation of much needed efforts to forcefully address the problem of sleep apnea among truck drivers.

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July 18, 2013

Marine Afghanistan Veteran Killed by Tractor-Trailer in Albany

Sgt. Ronald Nabors was a decorated Marine who survived his honorable service in Afghanistan but his life was taken by a tractor trailer in Georgia. In Albany, Georgia, on Sunday, June 30the, his motorcycle crashed into the passenger side door a tractor-trailer truck that turned left in front of him into a Pilot truck stop. Sgt. Nabors, 26, a Texas native, who was stationed at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, was traveling north on his Harley Davidson motorcycle along Cordele Road when the collision happened.

Possible charges are pending against the driver of the tractor-trailer operated by Millis Transfer, Inc. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records, that company is based in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, but the company website lists a terminal in Carterville, Georgia. News reports to not mention whether the alcohol and drug tests required under federal law were done.

It is speculative to guess why this tragedy happened, but some of the likely suspects in similar truck crashes are:

Illegal left turn. Georgia law requires that the driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite
direction that is within the intersection or so close to it as to constitute an immediate hazard.
Possible hours of service violation. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require that drivers of commercial vehicles in interstate commerce drive no more than 11 hours out of 14 hours on duty, then take a 10 hour rest break, and to get longer weekly breaks. We often see hours of service violations in truck drivers from the Midwest traveling to Georgia. I don’t know whether that is the case here.
Truck driver impairment due to fatigue, medication, illness, etc. This often goes hand in hand with hours of service violations, but we also often see drivers impaired by medication.
Possible use of a hand held cell phone or other driver distraction. A relatively new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rule restricts the use of all hand-held mobile devices by drivers of commercial vehicles. My guess is that the Georgia State Patrol Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team (SCRT) is checking any cell phone SIM card and billing records.

Georgia wrongful death law gives designated survivors the right to bring a wrongful death action against the responsible parties. In Georgia, there can be two separate claims that may be asserted against a person or corporation who negligently causes a death:

– A “wrongful death” claim for the “full value of the life” which belongs to survivors designated by statute. If there is neither a spouse nor child surviving, then the decedent's parents have the right to sue under Georgia law. If the parents of a deceased child are divorced or living apart, the trial court has full discretion to allocate the wrongful death recovery between them, considering any pertinent factors.
– A “survival action” which belongs to the estate and is brought by the executor or administrator of the deceased for pain and suffering before death, medical expense and funeral expense. This claim may be filed by the administrator or executor of the decedent’s estate.

Ken Shigley is past president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12), past chair of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education in Georgia board of trustees (2012-13), board certified civil trial and pretrial advocate (National Board of Legal Specialty Certification) lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (2010-13). His Atlanta-based practice focuses on cases of wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury, including brain injury and spinal cord injury.

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June 6, 2013

3 killed in South Georgia ambulance - tractor trailer crash

This morning at 5 AM, 2 EMTs and their patient in an ambulance were killed in a collision with a jackknifing tractor trailer.

According to early news reports, a car pulled over to yield to the approaching ambulance, with its lights and siren activated, as required under Georgia law, and the tractor trailer then jackknifed into the path of the ambulance.

The Georgia State Patrol's Specialized Crash Reconstruction Team is investigating. It is early to speculate about what laws may have been violated, but possibilities include:
- Following too closely
- Speed too fast for conditions
- Failure of semi driver to yield to approaching emergency vehicle
- Possible hours of service violation if investigation reveals trucker was long haul driver in interstate commerce and had not complied with rule requiring 10 hour rest break after operating no more than 11 hours in 14 hour work day, etc.
- Possible driver distraction theories.

Investigation will probably include examination of data in the truck engine's electronic control module (ECM) if it was turned on, in any Qualcomm or other satellite communications system, and in any GPS device in the truck. We find that sometimes when ECM data is lost or destroyed a GPS provides speed and hours of service data.


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April 1, 2013

Caffeine reduces accident risk in truck drivers

Driver fatigue is a major cause of truck crashes among drivers of commercial tractor trailers, semis and big rigs. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations mandate that truck drivers can drive only 11 hours out of a 14 hour work day, followed by a 10 hour rest break. There are also restrictions on weekly totals. Handling injury and death cases arising from truck accidents in Georgia, I often seen cases where drivers were too fatigued to drive safely.

But most of us have personal experience to know that a driver can be dangerously sleepy in far less than 11 hours of driving.

Australian researchers have confirmed what we intuitively know. Caffeine can help maintain driver alertness. But caffeine alone is not enough, and naps can help too. In "Use of caffeinated substances and risk of crashes in long distance drivers of commercial vehicles: case-control study," published at BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f1140 ( 19 March 2013), Lisa N Sharwood and her collaborators reported on their study.

Their bottom line:

- Caffeine helps, but that alone is not enough.

- Breaks help, whether used for naps, exercise or drinking coffee.

All this seems like common sense, but it bears repeating. One problem in the trucking industry is that trucking companies and shippers sometimes insist on driving the maximum hours allowed (or longer), so that no credit is given for drivers who take breaks to help maintain alertness within those hours.

However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations include not just the hours of service rules but also a more general restriction against operating a commercial vehicle when too fatigued or ill to safely do so.

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March 28, 2013

What are the duties of a commercial truck driver?

Drivers of commercial tractor trailers, semis and big rigs are responsible for piloting an 80,000 pound rocket down highways shared with you and your family.

You may pray that they are well-trained, well-managed, safe and responsible. Most are. Some are not.

The duties of a commercial truck driver are spelled out in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, Commercial Drivers License (CDL) manuals, training materials published by industry associations and companies such as J. J. Keller, and company policies and procedures. While only statutes and regulations have the force of law, the others may be used as evidence of standards of care and of negligence when violated.

Some of the truck driver's duties include:

- Know and understand the safety regulations and policies.

- Perform pre-trip and post-trip inspections, carefully going through a detailed checklist of the tractor and trailer.

A proper pre-trip inspection takes an experienced truck driver 20 to 30 minutes.Too often in truck accident cases we find inspections were no more than a quick walk-around or less, with a vertical line hurriedly drawn down the checklist rather than even bothering to inspect and check off each item. Earlier this week I was at a truck stop for my expert's inspection of a tractor trailer involved in a fatal accident when we saw another truck driver do a 20 second "pre-trip inspection" that involved glancing at his tires. The result of inadequate pre-trip inspection can be operation of an 80,000 pound truck on the highway with unsafe equipment.

- Understand and comply with hours of service regulations, and truthfully log their driving, on-duty but not driving and off-duty time.

They are limited to driving 11 hours in a 14 hour work day, after which they must take a 10 hour rest break. The driver is responsible for planning a route with the hours of service rules in mind, and for notifying dispatch when he is out of legal hours.

I have handled cases in which drivers falsified logs in order to appear legal far beyond exhaustion of both their legal hours of operation and their bodies. Sometimes they are pressed to drive far beyond legal hours by trucking company dispatchers, third party logistics companies, freight brokers, shippers and consignees who turn a blind eye to safety. Those companies may share the legal blame, but the truck driver is still responsible as the pilot of the ship.

- Inspect his cargo to make sure it is safely distributed and secured before the trip, at particular points en route, and at the end of a trip.

Except when taking a sealed trailer that he is not allowed to open without special permission, the driver is required to inspect inside the trailer to make sure weight is properly distributed and the right methods and equipment have been employed to prevent the lad from shifting.

When operating a truck with a flatbed trailer, the driver must assure that the load is and remains securely tied down, following commodity-specific rules in order to prevent spilling, leaking, falling or blowing of cargo.

A while back, I handled a case in which a truck driver failed to secure a forklift on a flatbed trailer, with the result that the forklift came loose in a curve on a mountain road and landed on top of an oncoming vehicle. Police and the coroner were picking pieces of people out of that flattened car for days.

- Plan a route that takes into account weight limitations on roads and bridges, low height restrictions of bridges and tunnels, railroad crossings, one way streets and awkward turns.

A confused or careless truck driver can kill people when attempting a u-turn that blocks a highway in the dark or stuck in a railroad crossing or low bridge.

- Use extreme caution when road or adverse weather conditions affect traction or visibility, and if necessary pull off the road and wait for conditions improve. CDL manuals instruct truck drivers to reduce speed by one-third in rainy conditions.

When a tractor trailer hydroplanes in a rain slick curve and knack knifes at highway speed into oncoming traffic, only a miracle an prevent deaths or catastrophic injuries, including that of the truck driver himself.


- Stop driving when ill or fatigued, even if still within the legal hours of service.

Sometimes we find that truck drivers work second jobs or pursue other activities during the required rest periods, so that. They are unsafely fatigued even when inside legal hours of operation. Other times we find truckers returning to work too soon after an illness, such as one who got a chiropractor to issue DOT medical certificate two weeks after open heart surgery.

Safety should always come first.

- Whenever stopped on the side of the road, truck drivers must activate hazard flashers, then put out reflective triangles or flares at specified locations behind the trailer.

- Hang up and drive.

Federal rules now ban use of hand held cell phones as well as text messaging during operation of a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.

- Obey all state and local traffic laws.

Truckers must also obey local peed limits, traffic control devices, etc.

There is much more that could be included, but this may give you a taste of the issues we examine regarding truck driver duties.


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March 28, 2013

What are the qualifications for a tractor trailer driver?

When we share the road with semi tractor trailer drivers who pilot 80,000 pound big rigs on highways across the country, we hope they are well-qualified and safety conscious. Most are but some are not.

Among the many things I examine as a trucking accident litigation trial attorney in Georgia are the qualifications, experience and background of the truck driver.

Commercial truck and bus drivers are required to have knowledge of and comply with all government trucking safety regulations and company policies. Motor carriers operating truck and bus lines are required to make sure drivers are adequately trained and monitor drivers' performance.

Entry level truck drivers must obtain a Commercial Driver's License, usually referred to as a CDL. That requires training in driver qualifications, hours of service, safe operations and whistle blower protection. The CDL manuals for all states in the US are materially identical. Drivers are required to know and understand pertinent provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, so the CDL manual explains the regs in simpler, graphic terms.

Drivers of specialized commercial vehicles need additional training specific to those types of vehicles. Trade organizations and safety materials publishing companies produce training videos and manuals for a wide variety of specialized commercial vehicles such as concrete mixer trucks, crane trucks, etc.

These CDL manuals and specialized training materials are extremely useful in cross examining truck drivers after they crash.

In applying for a truck driving job, a truck driver must provide his or her CDL, employment history, driving records, record of convictions and violations, medical history, drug and alcohol history, and physical exam.

Trucking companies are required to conduct a road test of the driver, testing knowledge, skills, experience and training, using the same type vehicle the driver is expected to operate. The test must be conducted by an employee who is qualified to do so.

When representing the victims of a catastrophic semi tractor trailer crash, all this fair game for thorough and sifting examination. Any lawyer who thinks a commercial truck crash is just a bigger car wreck will be clueless and unprepared, vastly reducing the prospects for success in representing his client. That is why our years of experience in trucking litigation matters.

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations; Truck Accident Litigation (3d edition)

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July 13, 2012

Truck crash on Thornton Road kills 2 AutoTrader.com co-workers, injures 4 others

ABCO Transportation, Inc., a refrigerated freight haulder based in Dade City, Florida, has a chronically unsatisfactory record with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration with regard to unsafe driving violations. In my experience as a trucking trial attorney, when a trucking company has a record as bad as ABCO, often there are issues of management turning a blind eye to safety.

In ABCO's case, this bad safety record culminated in a tragic crash on Wednesday on Thornton Road in Douglas County, Georgia, when an ABCO truck driver ran a red light, taking the lives of two co-workers at AutoTrader.com (a Cox Enterprises subsidiary) and injuring four others.

I was in Chattanooga, at the office of another trucking trial attorney, when I got a message to return a call from the family of two of the injury victims who had been referred by their family's attorney in another state.

ABCO's record with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows unsafe driving violations with a 74.3 percentile score. Anything over 60th percentile is unsatisfactory. In the past two years, ABCO had 81 reported unsafe driving violations, and has rated unsatisfactory for unsafe driving violations for every reporting period since December 2010. That is probably the tip of the iceberg, as it only indicates the times they got caught.

Specific reported violations include:

- Failure to obey traffic control device, 8 violations
- Following too close, 11 violations
- Improper lane change, 3 violations
- Lane Restriction violation, 5 violations
- Improper passing , 1 violation
- Reckless driving, 1 violation
- Speeding, 14 violations
- Speeding 15 or more miles per hour over the speed limit, 4 violations
- Speeding work/construction zone, 4 violations

In 2011 and 2012, ABCO has had 18 reported crashes, 8 of which involved injuries, with a total of 17 people injured. These include:

- 6/22/12, Pennsylvania, 2 injured
- 12/9/11, New York
- 12/2/11, Ohio
- 11/29/11, Colorado
- 11/2/11, New York, 1 injured
- 10/11/11, Virginia
- 9/9/11, Missouri
- 4/27/11, Kentucky
- 4/7/11, Florida, 1 injured
- 3/5/11, Alabama
- 2/10/11, Virginia, 7 injured
- 1/20/11, Ohio
- 11/23/10, Florida, 1 injured
- 11/3/10, Indiana, 1 injured
- 10/25/10, Ohio
- 8/29/10, Texas, 1 injured
- 7/31/10, Virginia, 3 injured
- 7/9/10, Connecticut

Regarding fatigued driving, one of the most common underlying causes of truck crashes, ABCO is right at the threshold for an unsatisfactory rating -- 59.8 percentile when anything over 60 percentile is considered unsatisfactory. ABCO was over the 60 percentile threshold for unsatisfactory driver fatigue rating for 4 of the past 6 reporting periods. Reported violations only indicate when they got caught, so they are normally the tip of the iceberg. Violations include:

- False report of driver's record of duty status, 8 (lying about driver logs)
- Requiring or permitting driver to drive more than 11 hours, 8 violations
- Requiring or permitting driver to drive after 14 hours on duty, 20 violations

It was with that background that an ABCO Transportation tractor-trailer operated by 64-year-old Robert John Sansom, of Colorado ran a red light on Thornton Road in Douglas County, Georgia, on Wednesday, July 11th. Two women on their lunch break were killed -- Tracy Downer and Michelle Chinnis, both of whom in sales for AutoTrader.com, a website owned by Cox Enterprises. Four other people were injured in the crash . According to an article by Alexis Stevens in the AJC, Downer previously worked in advertising at the AJC from 1993 to 2010, was married with a son and a daughter, and Chinnis is survived by a 16-year-old daughter.

Victims and their families may choose separate attorneys or joint representation in such instances of serious personal injury or wrongful death, as this is a potential conflict that may be waived in writing after informed consent pursuant to Georgia Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7.

Whenever there are multiple victims of a crash such as this one, it is important to coordinate representation. Most recently, we were involved in the joint prosecution group coordinating representation of member of the Bluffton University baseball team arising from a bus crash in Atlanta in 2007. Where there are no substantial indications of fault on the part of any of the victims, the only potential conflict among them is generally concern about adequacy of insurance coverage and assets to cover all claims.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website only shows for ABCO a $1,000,000 liability policy with Protective Insurance Company. However, an interstate motor carrier with 174 trucks is likely to carry an excess liability insurance policy with considerably higher limits, perhaps an additional $5,000,000 to $20,000,000. That information is not public and generally is reliably documented only in litigation.

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May 28, 2012

Tractor trailer crashes & overturns on freeway ramp in Alabama

This weekend an 18-wheeler that crashed and overturned at the Interstate 65/85 interchange in Montgomery, Alabama. Fortunately, no injuries were reported in this incident, unlike a fatal crash when a big rig overturned on a ramp Friday in San Jose, California.

While news reports stated the incident was under investigation, one might speculate that the tractor trailer was going too fast in the curve.

Investigation in trucking crashes often extends beyond what happened immediately on the roadway. We often find that a pattern of disregard for safety in the management of the trucking company is an underlying factor. It may involve negligence in hiring, training and supervision of truck drivers, failure to adequately monitor compliance with hours of service rules, and failure to monitor driver speed and operations.

In Georgia, we represent families and individuals in serious neck and back injury, burn injury, brain injury, amputation injury, spinal cord injury, fracture injury and wrongful death cases arising from tractor trailer and big rig crashes.

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December 20, 2011

8.7% increase in trucking fatalities

Fatalities in large truck accidents increased 8.7% in 2010, according to a report released last week by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

NHTSA said in its annual report that 3,675 people died in trucking related accidents in 2010, an increase of 295 over the 3,380 fatalities in 2009. The number injured in trucking accidents increased 12% from 17,000 to 19,000. (Those number are surely rounded off.)

NHTSA did not clearly identify a cause, but increased truck traffic due to gradual economic recovery is likely a major factor.


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September 29, 2011

Illinois law upgrades GPS information on safe truck routes

New ideas for trucking safety don't pop up very often. Thanks to fellow trucking safety trial lawyer Michael Leizerman in Ohio for bringing this one to my attention.

Earlier this month, Illinois enacted a law to improve the GPS data available to truck drivers. The goal is to provide better routing details specific to trucking in the state, thus helping to reduce accidents and traffic.

Effective January 1, 2012, Illinois state and local governments will be required to inform the Illinois Department of Transportation about details of preferred trucking routes, weight restrictions on roads, and height limitations for bridges and overpasses. The Illinois DOT will then post this information on its website.

The new state law also requires streamlining the way cities and towns report designated truck networks and preferred routes, and merger of databases that contain important data such as overpass heights. The new law will also help educate truckers about the benefits of using GPS devices created specially for them.

This is an idea I hope our Georgia legislators will consider.

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May 11, 2011

Safe Roads Act would require trucker drug test database

The Safe Roads Act, proposed bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators Mark Pryor and John Boozman, both of Arkansas, would tighten the handling of truckers’ drug and alcohol tests. If passed into law, this bill would require medical review officers, employers, and service agents to report to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) any positive drug or alcohol test results

The bill would also establish a drug test database for commercial drivers and require employers to check it prior to hiring a truck driver. The database is the recommendation of the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Currently, some big rig commercial truckers keep driving tractor trailers Drug and alcohol testing requirements do exist, but some truckers keep driving big rigs even after they test positive. Not all job applicants report their drug test history when seeking a job, not all carriers do full background checks, and some self-employed drivers just ignore the rules. In recent studies, about 68,000 commercial drivers tested positive for drug use, out of a total of 3.4 million.

In my Georgia trucking accident trial practice, I have sued trucking companies that show a nearly total disregard for rules requiring drug tests and truck driver background checks. In one recent case, a trucking company had been cited for dozens of violations of drug test and background checking rules within three years before a crash involving a newly hired driver. The new driver, as you might suspect, had not been subjected to a drug test and his background had not been checked before he crashed into a lady in rush hour traffic.

Unfortunately, such scofflaw conduct is all too common among some trucking companies. The Safe Roads Act, if passed, would help, though I have no delusion that it would stop the cheating.

The process of investigation and discovery to uncover such a record of violations requires an attorney experienced in trucking litigation and who knows how to dig out hidden information, and then get it into evidence at trial.

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May 9, 2011

5% of commercial truck drivers involved in majority of driver distraction events

The SmartDrive Safety study of commercial drivers observed with in-vehicle recorders that capture video, audio and vehicle data during sudden stops, swerves, collisions and other risky driving maneuvers reached a surprising conclusion.

The study showed that the top 5 percent of drivers with the most driving distractions were distracted 67 percent of the time during which a risky driving maneuver was observed - nearly six times more often than the rest of the drivers.

Just 5 percent of the drivers accounted for the majority of events involving those devices - 57 percent of all mobile phone incidents captured and 52 percent of all operating-handheld-device incidents.

The nine most common distractions observed in conjunction with a risky driving maneuver were:

* Object in Hand, 44.5%, which includes mp3 players, PDAs and paperwork
* Talking on a Handheld Mobile Phone, 13.4%
* Beverage, 12.7%
* Food, 10.1%
* Smoking, 9.9%
* Operating a Handheld Device, 9.1%
* Talking/Listening Mobile Phone - Hands Free, 5.2%
* Manifest, Map or Navigation, 1%
* Grooming/Personal Hygiene, 0.6%

Continue reading "5% of commercial truck drivers involved in majority of driver distraction events" »

February 17, 2011

The economics of independent owner operators in today's trucking environment

The impact of economics on trucking safety is insidious.

One thing that turns up with truckers who are witnesses in our cases is the economic squeeze on independent owner operators who try to operate safely in compliance with the rules. Of immediate concern is the fact that shippers pay fuel surcharges to brokers, but the brokers don't pass all that fuel surcharge along to owner operators who have to pay for the fuel. That cuts the operating margin for owner operator truckers to the bone.

Then their freight prices are undercut by marginal operators who disregard maintenance, use immigrant drivers who will work for peanuts, and cheat like crazy on their driver logs. And when judges who don't understand trucking issues rule that companies will to ignore the rules can hire trucks and drivers without any semblance of compliance with the FMSCR lease requirements, the door is opened for companies to employ fly-by-night truckers in complete defiance of all safety and financial responsibility rules.

Bad drives out good, and those who are willing to undercut rates by ignoring safety rules can drive out truckers who try to follow the safety regulations.

I hope that the Obama Administration will protect the safety of the traveling public by implementing two measures:

- Require that fuel surcharges be passed on to the operators who actually pay for the fuel.

- Clarify the rules so that when a truck lease is required under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, it will be inferred by law even the parties ignored the law and had neither a written nor oral lease.

Continue reading "The economics of independent owner operators in today's trucking environment" »

February 9, 2011

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sets listening sessions on proposed hours of service rule change

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has scheduled a public listening session on its proposal to revise hours-of-service (HOS) rules for commercial truck drivers on February 17, 2011 in Arlington, Virginia.

The agency will also webcast the session live with a forum on its website for comments and questions in order to maximize public participation.

The proposed rule change, which I discussed in this blog about six weeks ago, defines a fault line between the trucking industry, which generally claims asserts the proposed changes would excessively restrict the trucking business in already economically difficult time, and safety advocates who say the changes don’t go far enough in reducing driver fatigue.

According to Transportation Department records, driver fatigue accounts for up to 40 percent of all commercial vehicle crashes.

The hearing will be held at the Crowne Plaza Washington National Airport hotel at 1480 Crystal Drive, Arlington, Virginia 22202. The live webcast may be viewed by going to www.fmcsa.dot.gov. The session will last from 12 noon until 12 midnight EST.

If you or a loved one have been injured by negligence in operation of a large commercial truck in or from Georgia, contact us today to determine whether you have a claim.

Continue reading "Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sets listening sessions on proposed hours of service rule change" »

February 7, 2011

Truck Safety Coaliation works for safer highways

As a trucking safety trial attorney in Georgia, I find that one of the most valuable sources of information about accident prevention in the trucking industry is the Truck Safety Coalition. It is a partnership between The Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) Foundation, and Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T).

The Truck Safety Coalition is dedicated to reducing the number of deaths and injuries caused by truck-related crashes, providing compassionate support to truck crash survivors and families of truck crash victims, and educating the public, policy-makers and media about truck safety issues.

If you or a loved one have been injured by negligence in operation of a large commercial truck in or from Georgia, contact us today to determine whether you have a claim.

Continue reading "Truck Safety Coaliation works for safer highways" »

February 6, 2011

Interstate trucking remains dangerous -- for motorists and truckers alike

In my Atlanta-based trucking safety litigation practice, I often see the tragic outcomes of catastrophic trucking accidents. And because of that, when I travel on the highways I am alert to the minority of truckers who ignore the safety rules. Most of the time they get by with it, without a bad outcome, but slackness about safety will inevitably lead to tragedy.

Some folks, of course, think that statistics are irrelevant to them simply because they are unique and bad things only happen to others. Many of those folks are eventually known as defendants, casualties or ... statistics.

And I often wind up representing truckers who are injured by other truckers, as well as "four-wheelers" who are hit by large trucks.

The statistics about the hazards in trucking are impressive. Data collected by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) reported the following National Crash Facts for 2008:

* 4,066 large trucks and 247 buses were involved in crashes resulting in fatalities

* There were 4,229 fatalities in crashes involving large trucks and 307 fatalities in crashes involving buses

* 129,653 large trucks and 14,045 buses were involved in non-fatal crashes

* 51,680 large trucks and 7,603 buses were involved in crashes resulting in injury

* There were 71,329 injuries in crashes involving large trucks and 17,148 injuries in crashes involving buses

* 77,973 large trucks and 6,442 buses were involved in tow-away crashes

* 2,641 large trucks and 11 buses were involved in Hazmat (HM) Placard crashes

If you or a loved one have been injured by negligence in operation of a large commercial truck in or from Georgia, contact us today to determine whether you have a claim.

Continue reading "Interstate trucking remains dangerous -- for motorists and truckers alike" »

February 4, 2011

Federal trucking safety agency proposes rule on electronic on-board recorders

Because driver fatigue is one of the most pervasive safety issues in interstate trucking, trucking safety regulations for many years have included rules on how many hours a driver may drive and be on duty. In almost every serious trucking accident, the accuracy of paper driver logs becomes an issue. As a trucking safety trial attorney in Georgia, I have exerted a great deal of effort over the years investigating other records to determine the truth which does not always match those logs.

Now, after years of controversy, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is proposing a new rule requiring Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBR).

A proposed rule published published Feb. 1 that would require motor carriers that are required to maintain Records of Duty Status for Hours of Service (HOS) recordkeeping would have to use EOBRs to monitor their drivers' compliance.

FMCSA's proposal includes supporting documents these carriers would still be required to obtain and keep, as required by section 113(a) of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Authorization Act, but it would remove requirements to retain supporting documents to verify driving time. It would require all carriers to systematically monitor their drivers' compliance with HOS requirements, with three years from the effective date of the final rule to comply.

The agency is accepting comments until April 4, 2011. FMCSA had issued a rule on April 5, 2010, that mandated EOBR use by June 4, 2012, by motor carriers found during a compliance review to have a 10 percent violation rate for any HOS regulation. This new rule expands that requirement, with three possible options:

Option 1 would require EOBRs for all drivers required to use paper logs.

Option 2 expands Option 1 to include all passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicles subject to the s and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations shipments of bulk hazardous material, regardless whether the drivers use paper logs or are exempted from doing so.

Option 3 would include all commercial motor vehicle operations subject to the hours of service requirements.

While this is generally a step in the right direction, I'm cynical enough to note that even electronic systems are potentially subject to manipulation and cheating, though the human overrides required to cheat will require more sophistication than merely lying on a paper log, often referred to as a "comic book." If maintenance of supporting documentation is no longer required, it will become vastly more difficult to check the accuracy of electronic records that may be subject to sophisticated cheating.

Those of us who inquire into the truth underlying hours of service reports will also have to become more sophisticated about discovery of electronically stored information in the trucking industry. That will likely require more experts and more expense.

Continue reading "Federal trucking safety agency proposes rule on electronic on-board recorders" »

November 20, 2010

Truck driver health issues shorten life expectancy 16 years

The Centers for Disease Control released last week a report on truck driver health risks related to Irregular schedules, long hours of work, poor diet and nutrition, and the stress of driving in heavy traffic and bad weather.

The CDC reported:

Life expectancy: 61 for truck drivers, 77 for national average.

Obesity: 50% of commercial truck drivers are overweight or obese compared to only 33% of general adult population. Obesity leads to hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, and other health problems.

Smoking: 54% of truck driver smoke, compared to 21% of adult population.

Exercise:
8% of truckers exercise regularly, compared to 49% of all adults.

That's bad for the truck drivers and bad for others on the road whose safety is adversely affected by truck drivers with sleep apnea and other conditions that make them less safe.

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May 9, 2010

Truck speed discussion on Youtube video

Click here for my video discussion the role of speed in trucking accidents.

Continue reading "Truck speed discussion on Youtube video" »

May 9, 2010

Trucking safety issues addressed by FMCSA director

As a trucking accident trial attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia, I try to keep up with trucking safety issues at the national level. The latest development was a statement last week by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration director Ann Ferro at a U.S. Senate subcommittee. Some of the high points include:

Core priorities of FMCSA are to:
1. Raise the safety bar to enter the industry;
2. Require operators to maintain high safety standards to remain
3. Remove high-risk operators from our roads and highways.

CSA 2010 is to be implemented by end of 2010.
This Comprehensive Safety Analysis program is intended to measure seven key behaviors that are linked to trucking crash risk:
1.Unsafe Driving
2. Fatigued Driving
3. Driver Fitness which includes licensing and medical compliance standards
4. Crash History
5. Vehicle Maintenance
6. Improper Loading and Cargo
7. Controlled Substances - Drugs and Alcohol

New Entrant Safety Assurance Program
focuses on 16 safety regulations for which a violation by a new entrant carrier would result in an automatic failure of the safety audit. Any new entrant that fails the safety audit must submit a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) in order to continue to operate in interstate commerce. FMCSA also closely monitors the new entrant during the initial 18-month period of operation and, if certain violations are discovered during a roadside inspection, the new entrant will be subject to an expedited action to correct the identified safety deficiencies.

National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners rules later this year will establish minimum training and testing requirements for all healthcare professionals that issue medical certificates for interstate truck and bus drivers. (I've seen drivers who were cleared to return to service in a 10 minute checkup by a chiropractor after open heart surgery.)

Hours of Service. FMCSA is taking another look at the controversial hours of service rule.

Electronic On-Board Recorders will be required of an additional 5,700 motor carriers as a remedial measure. (The days of "comic book" driver logs may be numbered, but making the EOBR systems tamper-proof will be the next challenge.)

Distracted Driving. FMCSA has banned text messaging by drivers while operating a commercial motor vehicle. (It's a step in the right direction.)

Drug & Alcohol Database. FMCSA is working on a database to keep up with drivers who fail drug and alcohol tests.

There's more. I commend the entire statement to the interested reader.

Continue reading "Trucking safety issues addressed by FMCSA director" »

December 16, 2009

Witnessed fiery truck crash in New Mexico

As a trucking accident trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, I often litigate about trucking accidents. As a seminar speakers, I often talk about them at continuing legal education seminars around the country. On this blog, I frequently write about them.

But last Sunday, I saw one.

While helping my son move his car and his stuff home from California, I was taking a turn driving east of Albuquerque when we saw a column of black smoke just ahead. As traffic ground to a halt, we saw that about 200 yards ahead on the westbound lanes of I-40, one tractor trailer had rear-ended another, and was beginning to burn.

Another bystander said that her husband had broken out a window in the cab of the striking vehicle and pulled the unconscious driver out before his rig burst into flames.

As traffic was blocked in both directions, my son and I waited over an hour, watching as the truck was engulfed in flames and a huge column of black smoke rose into the clear New Mexico sky.

Numerous emergency vehicles responded. Eventually a helicopter landed in our eastbound lanes and evacuated the truck driver.

While we waited, I talked with the drivers of trucks stopped behind us. A bulk freight tanker filled with plastic pellets was stopped behind me at an angle blocking both lanes. One of the other truckers thanked him for blocking both lanes that way, so that others would not get closer to the fire before stopping. He responded that he had no choice. Due in part to handling characteristics with that load, he had a hard time stopping without hitting us, and wound up at an angle across both lanes.

The truck drivers waiting on the road talked some about the new CSA 2010 (Comprehensive Safety Analysis) program coming online soon at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. A seasoned truck driver (about my age) was concerned that anyone who has been driving over the road for 30 years, with the diet and exercise difficulties that go with that, is bound to have medical conditions that require medication that would be reported under the new system.

They also talked a little about how they manage rest, diet and exercise. Or don't manage it, as the case may be. One mentioned the near monopoly in the truck stop business, and the lack of healthy food or exercise facilities at truck stops. If the giant players in the truck stop industry would put in healthy food and fitness facilities, it would help a lot in improving truck driver health and public safety.

Eventually the helicopter took off and we were able to drive away. As we passed the burned out tractor trailer, it was difficult to recognize the completely incinerated tractor. Traffic was backed up for many miles on the westbound lanes of I-40 and probably was not cleared for quite a while longer.

No, I don't know the causes of the crash -- fatigue, distraction, speed, following too closely, or even sudden stopping in the middle of an open interstate through the desert.

Fortunately, it was another tractor trailer that was hit. While the trailer of the lead vehicle was destroyed, there was no direct impact to the cab. If a small vehicle had been hit in that manner, and then involved in the truck fire, it is unlikely any occupants would have survived.


Continue reading "Witnessed fiery truck crash in New Mexico" »

November 10, 2009

Justice for truck drivers who refuse to violate the law

The STAA (Surface Transportation Assistance Act), which also covers truck driver whistleblower cases, gives truck drivers a right to refuse to drive a commercial vehicle when it would violate the law to do so.

Examples include driver fatigue or illness, unwillingness to participate in an illegal activity, or a reasonable belief that a vehicle is unsafe because of worn tires, missing headlights, or low air pressure in brake system. STAA is supposed to protect drivers by preventing firing or other retaliatory action from truck companies. However, without effective legal representation those rights can be meaningless.

I don't handle STAA claims. I could probably fill up my caseload with them, based on the number of calls I get from truck drivers whose employers insist that they run illegally, but there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything.

If you are a truck driver whose employer gives you a choice between running illegal or losing your job, you might contact Truckers Justice Center , 900 West 128th Street, Suite 104, Burnsville, MN 55337, Telephone 952.224.9166, Fax 678.791.1728.

Continue reading "Justice for truck drivers who refuse to violate the law" »

July 1, 2009

Another family killed when rear-ended by a tractor trailer

No matter how often it happens, the useless tragedy is never less shocking.

About 4 AM last Friday on I-65 in Indiana, a family of five was killed when a tractor trailer rear-ended their vehicle which had slowed for traffic

Several years ago, something similar happened to a family in our neighborhood in Sandy Springs. The parents survived but their lovely teenage daughter, who had been a friend of my daughter since kindergarten, was killed instantly when a tractor trailer ran right over them as they slowed for congested traffic on I-20 in Alabama. After seeing so many incidents of this sort, I automatically hit the hazard flasher button whenever traffic slows ahead of me on the expressway.

The predawn hours are an all too common time for this sort of crash. Driver fatigue and efforts to keep driving despite sleepiness are often a factor.

Investigation of such incidents should include tracking down and examining all driver logs, trip receipts, Prepass records, weigh station records, bills of lading, etc., etc., to determine whether there were violations of hours of service rules in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. It should also include investigation of the driver's medical history, including any disqualifying medical conditions and use of prescription or non-prescription medications that may affect alertness.

Continue reading "Another family killed when rear-ended by a tractor trailer" »

June 7, 2009

Obesity and sleep apnea a double threat for trucking safety

Obesity is a big risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, which is a huge risk for drowsy drivers causing crashes.

And long days of sedentary, solitary work, legally driving up to 11 hours in a 14 hour work day, with no easy access to either healthy food or a place to safely exercise, promotes obesity.

It is no wonder then that long haul truck drivers often suffer from both obesity and obstructive sleep apnea.

MSNBC reported this week that a Harvard sleep scientist, Dr. Stefanos N. Kales, has published an article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, calling for mandatory sleep apnea screening of commercial truck drivers.

“Screenings of truck drivers will be ineffective unless they are federally mandated or required by employers,” said Kales, whose study included more than 450 commercial drivers working for more than 50 firms.

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes a person’s airways to collapse during sleep, cutting off breathing dozens — or even hundreds — of times a night. Because sufferers wake over and over, they’re never fully rested and their bodies are chronically deprived of oxygen. That can cause health problems ranging from heart disease to diabetes and symptoms that include daytime sleepiness and a tendency to nod off during normal activities.

“It can be a microsleep for few seconds,” said Kales. “That can be enough to throw a truck off the road." The results can be devastating.

According to Kales, up to 20 percent of truck crashes are caused by drivers who fall asleep, and up to 28 percent of commercial drivers have sleep apnea. That works out to as many as 3.9 million of the roughly 14 million commercial drivers. The 28 percent rate among truckers compares poorly with about 4 percent of men aged 30 to 60 in the general population.

“A driver is impaired by fatigue long before he falls asleep,” said Jeff Burns, a lawyer representing the Truck Safety Coalition, a safety advocacy group.

Trucking industry groups routinely reject concerns about obesity and sleep apnea.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Medical Review Board has recommended mandatory sleep apnea screening for commercial truck drivers, but the FMCSA does not appear to have the issue on its agenda for action in the near future.

Continue reading "Obesity and sleep apnea a double threat for trucking safety" »

March 22, 2009

"Safety culture" is important for prevention of catastrophic truck crashes

Not surprisingly, the "safety culture" of a trucking company is a huge factor in determining whether its drivers are involved in catastrophic truck crashes.

The Transportation Research Board published a couple of years ago "The Role of Safety Culture
in Preventing Commercial Motor Vehicle Crashes.
"

Some key points from that study are:

• Culture and safety have a clear connection.
• Safety culture is best defined and indexed by an organization’s norms, attitudes, values, and
beliefs regarding safety.
• Effective top to bottom safety communication and interactions enhance safety culture.
• Terms such as “accident” and “mishap” are often replaced with the terms “crash,” “wreck,”
and other more appropriate, straightforward terms in many safe cultures.
• In many instances, organizations, organizational subgroups, and professions may each have
identifiable safety culture.
• Recognition and certain rewards systems for safe behavior are an effective component of safety culture.
• Driver experience enhances a safety culture, especially if that experience is with one carrier.
Driver retention problems, however, have the potential for degrading a safety culture.
• Many levels of communicating safety culture are necessary in “remote workforce” industries
such as truck and bus operations.
• Policies, procedures, employee safety responsibilities, and safety messages must be clear and simple.
Hiring practices, safety training and education, company orientation, and safety management
are all key components of a safety culture.
• Measuring safety performance of drivers and the organization as a whole are key components of a safety culture.

Actions that companies may take to improve their safety culture include the following:

• Develop or redevelop internal definitions of culture and safety.
• Conduct “Swiss cheese” analyses, to determine what omissions in the management system contributed to accidents.
• Identify and dispel myths, such as the tendency to always blame weather or outside factors.
• Conduct institutional safety knowledge development.
• Define or redefine employee safety roles from top to bottom
• Assess the effectiveness of safety communication and reengineer systems of safety communication.
• Create or enhance a system of safety record data collection and analysis.
• Develop or redevelop motivational tools, such as tying driver compensation and advancement to safety.
• Improve driver retention.

It's a long report. I commend it to any truckers and safety managers who are interested in improving safety.

And I will certainly refer to it in "looking under the hood" of the management system of companies whose trucks crash into my clients, causing serious injury or death.

Continue reading ""Safety culture" is important for prevention of catastrophic truck crashes" »

March 11, 2009

Sleep apnea in truck drivers linked to obesity

Truck driver fatigue is one of the most obvious causes of truck crashes. Obstructive sleep apnea is among the most common contributing factors. Obesity is a big risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea.

Now there is another study reconfirming the obvious: that obesity-driven testing strategies identify commercial truck drivers with a high likelihood of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and that mandating obstructive sleep apnea screenings could reduce the risk of truck crashes.

The study by Cambridge Health Alliance published in the March 2009 edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine concludes that:

- Truck drivers with sleep apnea have up to a 7-fold increased risk of being involved in a motor vehicle crash.

- Drivers with sleep apnea frequently minimize or underreport symptoms such as snoring and daytime sleepiness.

- A majority of truck drivers did not follow through on physician recommendations for sleep studies and sleep apnea treatment.

- It is possible that many of the 14 million truck drivers on American road have undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea.

- "It is very likely that most of the drivers who did not comply with sleep studies or sleep apnea treatment sought medical certification from examiners who do not screen for sleep apnea and are driving with untreated or inadequately treated sleep apnea."

- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is currently deliberating recommendations to require sleep apnea screening for all obese drivers based on body mass index or "BMI."

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February 22, 2009

What medical conditions disqualify a commercial truck driver?

Trucking companies are required to obtain a medical examination by licensed medical examiner of each truck driver. Here are the physical conditions that disqualify a truck driver from obtaining a CDL (commercial drivers license) and operating a commercial motor vehicle.

1. Loss of use of extremity. Loss of use of a foot, leg or arm, subject to a Skill Performance Evaluation of ability to safety control and operate a commercial motor vehicle even with a prosthetic limb.

2. Diabetes. Medical history of clinical diagnosis of diabetes currently requiring insulin. Diabetics whose condition is controlled with oral medication and diet may qualify.

3. Cardiovascular. Current clinical diagnosis of myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, coronary insufficiency, thrombosis, or any other cardiovascular disease of a variety known to be accompanied by syncope, dyspnea, collapse, or congestive cardiac failure. Coronary artery bypasses are not disqualifying, but implanted pacemakers are disqualifying.

4. Respiratory. Established medical history or clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with the ability to control and drive a commercial motor vehicle safely. Examples of disqualifying respiratory conditions are emphysema, chronic asthma, carcinoma, tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis and sleep apnea.

5. Hyptertension. Any detection of hypertension requires frequent rechecks. A blood pressure of 180 (systolic) and 110 (diastolic) or higher is considered Stage 3, at high risk for an acute event such as a stroke. The driver with Stage 3 hypertension may not be qualified, even temporarily, until reduced to equal to or less than 140/90 and treatment is well tolerated, and thereafter rechecked every six months.

6. Other physical limitations. Clinical diagnosis of rheumatic, arthritic, orthopedic or vascular disease which interferes with ability to control and operate a motor vehicle. This would include, for example, known to have acute episodes of transient muscle weakness, poor muscular coordination (ataxia), abnormal sensations (paresthesia), decreased muscle tone (hypotonia), visual disturbances and pain which may be suddenly incapacitating. Medical examiners must evaluate the severity and the likelihood of impairment affecting safe operation.

7. Epilepsy. Established medical history or clinical diagnosis of epilepsy or other condition known to cause loss of consciousness. Single episodes of non-epileptic seizure or loss of consciousness are evaluated regarding likelihood of recurrence, with a six month waiting period highly recommended. Drivers with a history of epilepsy/seizures off antiseizure medication and seizure-free for 10 years may be qualified to operate a CMV in interstate commerce. Interstate drivers with a history of a single unprovoked seizure may be qualified to drive a CMV in interstate commerce if seizure-free and off antiseizure medication for a 5-year period or more.

8. Psychiatric. Mental, nervous or functional disease or psychiatric disorder. This is often a subjective evaluation and easily overlooked by medical examiners.

9. Vision. Must have corrected vision of at least 20/40 in both eyes. One who is blind in one eye cannot qualify. My wife, who is functionally blind in one eye, would not qualify.

10. Hearing. Must be able to perceives a forced whispered voice in the better ear at not less than five feet with or without the use of a hearing aid. If tested by use of an audiometric device, must have an average hearing loss in the better ear greater than 40 decibels at 500 Hz, 1,000 Hz and 2,000 Hz with or without a hearing aid. I wonder whether my daughter, who is deaf but has an Auditory Brainstem Implant that enables her to hear environmental sounds and understand some speech would qualify.

11. Uses a Schedule I drug or other narcotic, with a narrow exception for prescribed medications.

12. Current diagnosis of alcoholism.

While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has taken steps to tighten up on medical examinations and certifications, there is still likely to be a problem with drivers avoiding going to doctors and avoid reporting dangerous symptoms to medical examiners. I have taken depositions of truckers who fell asleep while driving, looked like medical textbook illustrations of likely candidates for obstructive sleep apnea, and who had great knowledge of sleep apnea, but who denied ever having consulted a physician regarding any sleep related ailment.

There is also a problem with drivers who do get treatment for their disqualifying conditions but neither comply with their doctors directions nor reported their conditions. In one case, I took the deposition of a truck driver's personal physician who testified that the driver had confirmed obstructive pulmonary obstructive disorder (COPD), required use of an oxyen tank 24/7, and was unfit to operate a large truck. However, the trucker had never told the medical examiner or his employer of this condition.

The next step in reforming the medical qualification process may be to adjust the incentives. Right now the incentive for truck drivers to to avoid seeking treatment for problems that could be disqualifying, and to conceal insofar as possible any medical problems they may have. How can the rules be modified to to encourage drivers who have problems to seek the medical care they need?

And how can truck stop chains be encouraged to provide better access to healthy food and exercise facilities in order to help truck drivers maintain healthier lifestyles?


Continue reading "What medical conditions disqualify a commercial truck driver?" »

February 22, 2009

Medical certification rules for interstate truck drivers tightening

The health of truck drivers operating 80,000 pound vehicles on the highways for long hours is a matter of great concern for safety of both the truckers and others on the road. The lifestyle of long-haul truckers is hardly conducive to maintaining good habits of diet and exercise. Obesity, sleep apnea, and related ailments are too common, and ultimately affect safety.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has taken two new steps toward improving the supervision of medical certifications of drivers.

First, effective 1/30/09, regulations require states to maintain records linking medical certifications, medical examiner certifications, and CDL (commercial drivers license) records. A copy of these documents must be maintained in the motor carrier's driver qualification file. There will be a three-year phase-in of the new rule until 1/30/12.

Second, the FMCSA has published for comment a proposed rule to establish a national registry of medical examiners, who would be required to complete training about truck driver physical qualification regulations. Only those doctors who complete and maintain their certifications would be allowed to certify the fitness of truck drivers.

These are steps in the right direction. Now I would like to see truck stop chains do their part by installing exercise facilities and offering healthier food options.

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December 28, 2008

Yawning Danger - call to take truckers back to 10 hours driving per day

Truck driver fatigue as a cause of major tractor trailer accidents is an old story. As a trucking trial lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, I have seen it too many times.

In today's Baltimore Sun, there is an editorial, "Yawning Danger," urging the incoming Obama administration to overturn the hours of service rule that is set to become permanent on the last day of the Bush administration. The old rule limited truck drivers to 10 hours of driving in one day. The current temporary rule, which will become "permanent" on January 19th, allows driving 11 hours during 14 hours on duty.

The editorial points out:

Has the 11th hour made the roads more dangerous? Are 11th-hour drivers more likely to be involved in crashes? Some research suggests no, and that's the evidence sited by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration when it granted the rule change in November. But advocates say the government's analysis relies heavily on one study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that is deeply flawed (depending, for instance, on truckers being videotaped; the presence of a camera onboard likely affected their performance).

The bulk of 35 years of research, the petitioners point out, shows that the performance of long-haul truck drivers diminishes even before the 10-hour limit is reached. And while the number of highway fatalities was down the last two years, it went up the first year the new rules were in place. Recent safety improvements to roads and vehicles as well as lower average highway speeds may be masking the effect of the longer hours.

It seems like common sense that fatigue is progressive, and that one is more fatigued and more accident prone in the 11th hour of driving than in the 10th hour.

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December 24, 2008

Trucker killed in collision with another tractor trailer in Iowa

Handling a lot of truck and bus accident cases in my law practice in Georgia, I often see cases where there are truckers on both sides of the case, as one tractor trailer crashes into another tractor trailer. It drives home the fact that truck driving is a hazardous occupation.

This week's news included another of those incidents, this time on I-80 in Iowa. Saturday about 7:30 P.M., an unidentified truck driver was killed when he rearended another truck, and his tractor caught fire. The driver of the lead truck was injured.

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December 4, 2008

Two cement truck rollovers in news this week

This week there have been two news bulletins about cement truck rollover which, fortunately, did not cause any serious injuries. It could be a lot worse.

I learned through one recent case that standard concrete industry truck driver training materials emphasize how handling characteristics of such vehicles differ from other trucks. With the high center of gravity and rotating load, concrete mixer trucks can easily roll over. Industry training materials illustrate how a mixer truck will roll over at 16 mph in making a ninety degree turn on a level surface.

In a recent case, a concrete mixer truck rolled over onto a vehicle, cracking the skull of a baby his in infant seat. The truck driver admitted he was going about 25 mph when he made the turn, that he had never been trained to know the speed at which a concrete mixer truck would roll over, and would never have taken a turn as fast as 16 mph if he had known. That case, which included a claim against the concrete company for negligent training and supervision, settled.

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November 27, 2008

Obama transition team hears truck safety debate points

While my perspective is that of a trial lawyer handling truck and bus accident injury cases in Atlanta, Georgia, it is necessary to keep up with developments nationally. Therefore, I am following how trucking safety issues are on the agenda for the new administration in Washington.

Last Monday, the transportation transition team met with representatives of major trucking industry interest groups including the American Trucking Association (ATA), the Truckload Carriers Association, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, National Private Truck Council, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), and the truck manufacturers.

According to a report by Jami Jones of Land Line Magazine, some of the issues on which conflicting opinions were presented included:

- Truck size. The American Truicking Association favors using longer and heavier trucks for "productivity improvements." The OOIDA and others counter that this would take a toll on the nation's highway and bridge infrastructure.

- Loading and unloading time. The OOIDA representative pointed out that many drivers spend 30 to 40 or more hours per week waiting at loading docks to get loaded or unloaded. Addressing the waiting time problems at loading docks would improve productivity, as well as enhancing safety by helping encourage compliance with hours of service and reducing driver fatigue.

- Speed limiters. The ATA argues for speed limiters on trucks for reasons of safety and energy conservation. The OOIDA contends that speed limiters would hurt the incomes of truck drivers who are paid by the mile, and would have negative safety effects by ability to change lanes and move with the flow of traffic.

- Pressure from brokers, shippers, receivers and motor carriers. The OOIDA representative pointed out the the FMCSA concentrates too much of its enforcement efforts on drivers, while ignore the relationship between highway safety and the coercive demands of freight brokers, shippers, receivers and motor carriers upon drivers. The OOIDA representative pointed out that pointed out that truckers are under immense pressure from motor carriers, shippers and receivers. And that pressure is far more pervasive than the threat of any inspection scheme by FMCSA. “Unless those economic issues are addressed, drivers who become disqualified from driving … for safety violations will simply be replaced by new drivers facing the same economic pressures,” he told the transition team.

That is consistent with horror stories about economic pressures to violate safety rules I have heard from numerous truck drivers over the years.

- Truck parking and idling. Hours of service regulations require truck drivers to take mandatory rest periods. However, there are often inadequate spaces available for trucks to park and local governments restrict truck parking. Representatives urged a national approach to availability of truck parking for rest.

- Other topics discussed included electronic on-board recorders, parking shortages, idling regulations, highway financing and driver training.


Continue reading "Obama transition team hears truck safety debate points" »

November 26, 2008

Truck speeding on rain slick freeway with bad brakes caused fiery pileup in tunnel

A trucker speeding on a rain-slick expressway caused the fiery chain reaction in a tunnel on I-5 just north of Los Angeles last year. The location on I-5 is near my son's college apartment, so I have been by it many times. However, the case also has a local angle in metro Atlanta.

According to a report from California Highway Patrol investigators, Jose Reyes, 29, was driving at least 65 mph in the rain when his truck veered left and crashed into a concrete median wall after driving through the tunnel. The posted speed limit for that stretch of road is 55 mph, according to a report by Jack Leonard of the Los Angeles Times.

The resulting chain-reaction behind him killed a 6-year-old boy and two adults, and injured 10 others.

The report concluded that Saia Motor Freight Line Inc. was responsible for maintenance of the truck, and that the right front brake of the truck was not in working condition.

Saia Motor Freight Line Inc. is based right here in Fulton County, Georgia, in an office park in the suburb of Johns Creek, Georgia. According to USDOT information, it has 4,339 drivers and 3,552 motor units. While it has a "satisfactory" safety rating, in the past two years it has had 9 fatal crashes and 96 crashes with injuries.

On the face of the LA Times article, there appear to be at least three violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. I would bet there are more.


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November 26, 2008

Road Safe America promotes Drive Safer Sunday

Today's issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution includes an article by Steve Owings, who founded Road Safe America after his son was killed by a speeding tractor trailer on cruise control six years ago.

Having met Steve and learned of his motivation to make the roads safer for everyone, I'm just going to copy his article here in order to give his words wider distribution.

Big rig killed our son; drive safely on busiest traffic day

By Stephen C. Owings

For the Journal-Constitution

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My rearview mirror has turned into a time machine. Every now and then, when I glance into it, I see my son Cullum backing out of our driveway, waving one last time as he pulls away. Then, the truth comes crashing home again: I’m still here, and he’s not.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving will be a hard day for us again this year. It marks the sixth anniversary of Cullum’s tragic, violent passing. He was a young man of 22 with great promise whose life was ended in its prime, without warning, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2002, the busiest highway traffic day of the year. Stopped in an interstate traffic jam while headed back to school in Virginia with his younger brother, Pierce, Cullum saw the lights of the speeding tractor trailer rig in his rearview mirrors. As he was trying to get the car over to the left median to get out of the way, the big rig speeding on cruise control crashed into the boys’ car with full force, crushing it like a toy. That night, we got the phone call every parent dreads and will remember with horror for the rest of our lives: Pierce, who miraculously had survived, told us through his tears from the ambulance that Cullum had been killed.

My wife, Susan, Pierce and I will never stop asking the question why Cullum? However, we believe we have found answers to the many questions about why and how that wreck and thousands more heavy truck-car crashes happen each year. In an effort to learn all we could and then to educate motorists and big rig drivers about the inherent dangers for everyone when heavy commercial trucks travel at high speeds, we founded the nonprofit Road Safe America in 2003.

This Sunday will be the fourth annual national observance of Drive Safer Sunday in America, a day for which we have had state, congressional and media support for a national campaign urging everyone to drive more safely on the busiest highway traffic day of the year.

Since founding Road Safe America, we have been joined by the American Trucking Associations, all national safety advocacy organizations, numerous trucking firms, business executives, insurance companies and thousands of citizens in seeking a national regulation requiring activation of electronic speed limiting governors on all trucks 13 tons and up built after 1992. All trucks built since 1992 already come with the speed governors installed, so it would be a simple thing to activate them. Oddly, the Bush administration has opposed this common sense, inexpensive regulation that would save many of the lives of approximately 4,000 motorists and 1,000 truckers killed each year in crashes involving big trucks. We have asked President-elect Barack Obama to be more compassionate, and we hope his administration will appoint a secretary of transportation who takes action.

If saving lives is not motivation enough to support this cause, in this era of dependency on foreign sources of oil, consider the fact that activation of speed governing technology is already done by many trucking firms as a way to cut fuel use as well as improve safety. With a reduction of only 5 mph, millions of gallons of fuel can be saved annually in the nation’s trucking fleet.

The European Union, Australia, Japan and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec have regulations requiring speed-limiting devices set at 65 mph or slower on all large trucks. Sadly, instead of showing international leadership, the U.S. is behind the rest of the world in this area.

According to Australian government statistics, Australia experienced a reduction of 26.5 percent in heavy truck fatalities between 2002 and 2004 through speed governor requirements, aggressive fatigue management programs, random drug testing and seatbelt promotion within the trucking industry.

When an airliner goes down and 200 people perish, it is national news for weeks. But when twice that many are killed every month in crashes involving big trucks, where is the outcry?

No one at Road Safe America is anti-trucking or anti-trucker. In fact, the opposite is the case. In terms of annual deaths and injuries, trucking is the most dangerous profession in America, and we want to change that. We are trying to educate drivers of passenger autos and other vehicles about the need to operate more safely around large trucks because of the dangers present. Trucking is an absolutely vital industry to the economic health and prosperity of our nation. However, by limiting heavy commercial trucks’ speeds, we know that many more drivers will make it home to their families, and more motorists will live to see their loved ones again as well —- this Sunday and for many Sundays to come.

Stephen Owings is an Atlanta resident and the co-founder of Road Safe America.


November 26, 2008

Ohio trucker who was volunteer fireman killed in collision with Georgia fire truck

A collision between a tractor trailer and a fire truck in Crisp County, Georgia, killed the Ohio trucker and sent a local volunteer fireman to a hospital last Saturday.

The Ohio trucker, 33-year-old Shane Alan Waters of New Madison, Ohio, was killed. Ironically, he was also a volunteer fireman back in Ohio.

The cause of the wreck was not immediately apparent in a report by Gabe Jordan in the Cordele Dispatch.

The fire truck was traveling from Arabi to Cordele for a training session. Since it apparently was not on an emergency call, the state law that requires yielding to an emergency vehicle using lights and sirens would not apply.

County governments in Georgia waive sovereign immunity to the extent of motor vehicle liability insurance. A local government may also indemnify employees for negligent torts committed in the line of duty.

Continue reading "Ohio trucker who was volunteer fireman killed in collision with Georgia fire truck" »

November 26, 2008

Big rig crash in morning fog kills woman

A tractor trailer driver going too fast to see his way through dense fog Monday morning in Fresno, California killed a young woman on her way to work.

According to a report by Jim Steinberg and Vanessa Colón of The Fresno Bee, a big-rig drive Martin Nelson, 22, of Fresno, failed to see stopped traffic in heavy fog. He struck a Ford Explorer, killing the woman inside.

At least two critically important provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations appear to have been violated here.

First, 49 C.F.R.§ 392.14 requires:

Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by . . . rain, dust, . . . adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated.

Two California court cases have held that a trial court must instruct a jury on the federal "extreme caution" standard of care rather than the regular negligence standard under state law. Crooks v. Sammons Trucking, Inc., 2001 WL 1654986 (Cal.App. 3 Dist.,2001); Weaver v. Chavez, 133 Cal.App.4th 1350, 35 Cal.Rptr.3d 514 (Cal.App. 2 Dist.,2005). See also, George v. Estate of Baker, 724 N.W.2d 1 (Minn.,2006).

Second, 49 C.F.R. § 392.1 requires:

Every motor carrier, its officers, agents, representatives, and employees responsible for the management, maintenance, operation, or driving of commercial motor vehicles, or the hiring, supervising, training, assigning, or dispatching of drivers, shall be instructed in and comply with the rules in this part.

This case involves a 22-year-old truck driver. My hunch, based on experience in trucking cases, is that his employer checked to see that he had a CDL (Commercial Driver's License, checked to see if he had any moving violatons in the past three years, and tossed him the keys. I seriously doubt that the employer made any efforts at all to assure that he understood and appreciated the need to slow down or pull over when hazardous driving conditions made operation of the tractor trailer unsafe.

As a result, an innocent motorist is dead and her family grieves.

The challenge facing an attorney handling such a case is often to educate judges who don't even know that they are ignorant of motor carrier safety law. That is a continuing challenge as it requires getting a busy judge to focus on a body of federal law with which he or she may have great familiarity. Too many lawyers and judges think a tractor trailer crash is "just a big car wreck" and fail to recognize the legal and technical issues that must be considered.

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September 24, 2008

Florida truck driver on cell phone hits school bus, kills child

A Florida truck driver admitted that he was on his cell phone yesterday when he slammed into a school bus, killing a 13-year-old student. According to reports, the school bus, which had stopped to let children off , had its warning lights on and stop signs out. The truck failed to stop for it and rammed the school bus forward 294 feet.

See our recent posts on cell phone distractions and the absence of seat belts on busses.

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