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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.

Ken Shigley is a seasoned Georgia trial lawyer specializing in representation of plaintiffs in motor carrier (truck and bus) crashes. Practicing statewide in Georgia, he also participates as counsel or a consultant in major cases in other states where he can be admitted pro hac vice. Formerly chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute, he is on the National Advisory Board for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America and is actively involved in the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice. Named a “Super Lawyer” by Atlanta Magazine and one of the “Legal Elite” by Georgia Trend Magazine, he is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He frequently lectures on trucking litigation topics at national continuing legal education programs. Mr. Shigley is Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia.