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Quick clips on Boxing Day: trucking economics and safety

Taking a break from trucking accident litigation on the day after Christmas, I’m sitting at home in Atlanta, in a house where it seems everyone else is either sleeping or out bargain hunting, reading the news.

A few quick notes on the news as it relates to the trucking industry safety and economics, which in turn ultimately affects safety:

* Three members of a Duluth, Georgia, family were killed on Christmas Eve when they were rearended by a tractor trailer on the Pennsylvania Turnpike en route to New York. Benito Rivera, Christina Rivera-Morales and their four year old child were killed. Their two year old survived. One report says this happened in freezing rain, the sort of adverse weather that requires that truckers operate with “extreme caution.According to another report, the family vehicle had lost control and come to rest across the traffic lane in the dark. Let’s remember that family in our prayers, as well as the overstressed and underpaid trucker who probably hit them while trying to get home for Christmas with his family, and hold our own loved ones tight.

* YRC Worldwide parent company of Yellow Freight, cancelled a $150 million tender offer and is negotiating for easier terms on its credit lines as its shares dropped 18% and Moody’s cut its credit rating. The carrier’s freight tonnage was down substantially — 11%, 12% 21% depending on how the counting is done — from last year YRC was also negotiating a sale-leaseback of a portion of its facilities.

* Navistar International,manufacturer of trucks, buses, and diesel engines, is restating its net income upward due to an accounting error. While reported earning were up, the stock went down. The company benefited from higher military revenue and demand for more fuel efficient trucks, offsetting some of the decline in general trucking demand.

* The Wall Street Journal in a lead editorial blasted prospective DOT Secretary Ray LaHood as “Obama’s Secretary of Earmarks,” criticizing him for having “facilitatated the incontinent spending that helped Republicans lose their majority….” That is followed by an editorial titled “…And Bridges to Everywhere,” lampooning some spending projects proposed by local governments. Let’s hope that the new infrastructure spending will be more like Ike’s building of the interstate highway system in my youth, investing in our children’s future.

* California has passed the nation’s strictest rules on diesel fuel emissions. While my son may breathe marginally cleaner air near L.A., the increased cost for truckers to comply comes at a very difficult time.

* In another California story, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced on Christmas Eve a ruling that the hours of service rules for interstate truckers do not preempt California laws and regulations requiring employers to provide employees with meal and rest breaks.

* The U.S. isn’t the only country where the economic slowdown is affecting trucking. In India, about 158,000 commercial trucks went back to the lenders in December alone.

Ken Shigley is a trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia who has been listed as a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), among the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers (Martindale). He served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute, is on the National Advisory Board for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, and is a frequent national seminar speaker for the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice. A Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, he was a faculty member for ten years at the Emory University Law School Trial Techniques Program. Currently he is Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia.