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Truck safety and law implications of Futurist predictions

As a trial lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, focused largely on motor carrier (tractor trailer, big rig, truck and bus) accident practice, I work every day with the practical realities of individual lawsuits. However, it is useful to also look beyond the horizon at trends that will affect our clients and our practice in years ahead.

Anyone who thinks that current trends will always continue need only look at the discontinuities caused by numerous pivotal events in our lifetime. The internet, cell phones and 9/11 come immediately to mind. In fact, it is almost certain that all trends will be disrupted, sooner or later. Therefore, we need to think about both continuity and discontinuity in guessing where we may be in 10 or 20 years.

Each year the editors of THE FUTURIST pick their top 10 forecasts for their annual Outlook report. Over the years, Outlook has forecast developments as the Internet, virtual reality, and the end of the Cold War. Here some notes of the top 10 forecasts from Outlook 2009 with my rambling thoughts about the implications for trucking safety, law and litigation:

1. “Everything you say and do will be recorded by 2030. By the late 2010s, ubiquitous, unseen nanodevices will provide seamless communication and surveillance among all people everywhere. . . ”

The most obvious implication for trucking safety and litigation would be universal electronic data recording on all vehicles. Accident reconstruction would become both more complex and more certain as all speeds and forces would be recorded. Truckers’ hours of service would be known and not the subject of “comic book” logs. Litigation of truck accidents would be both simpler and more complex, as facts could be determined with greater certainty but through a process requiring greater technological sophistication. Those of us handling truck accident litigation may need to retrain ourselves with greater sophistication in information technology.

2. “Bioviolence will become a greater threat as the technology becomes more accessible. Emerging scientific disciplines (notably genomics, nanotechnology, and other microsciences) could pave the way for a bioattack. . . . ”

New threats will lead to new security measures. Expect tighter security measures to prevent weapons of mass destruction from being shipped in freight containers through our ports and transported on trucks. Detection devices capable of screening freight containers for all biological and nuclear weapons must be developed and deployed.

3. “The car’s days as king of the road may soon be over. More powerful wireless communication that reduces demand for travel, flying delivery drones to replace trucks, and policies to restrict the number of vehicles owned in each household are among the developments that could thwart the automobile’s historic dominance on the environment and culture. If current trends were to continue, the world would have to make way for a total of 3 billion vehicles on the road by 2025.”

I’m skeptical about flying delivery drones replacing trucks. If so, truck crash may take on a whole new meaning. However, it is more conceivable that infrastructure improvements could lead to electronic traffic control in dedicated truck lanes, in which driver fatigue and interaction with passenger vehicles would be greatly reduced, thereby improving safety.

4. Careers, and the college majors for preparing for them, are becoming more specialized. . . .

The transportation industry may develop greater professionalism as the use of sophisticated technology further proliferates. Qualifications for safety managers, operations managers and even drivers may rise. Likewise, claims adjusting, investigation and litigation (on both sides) will require greater technical sophistication and specialization.

5. “There may not be world law in the foreseeable future, but the world’s legal systems will be networked. . . . “

Just as economies are increasingly networked and interdependent through modern means of communication and travel, the traditional balkanization of legal systems and the legal profession is changing. Most U.S. states have adopted multijurisdictional practice rules. Before long I expect will very apply not just to U.S. lawyers but to lawyers with which we have trade treaties. Expanding multijurisdictional practice rules to Canadian lawyers would be an easy first step. In the trucking safety field, we may see increasing standardization of truck safety rules between the U.S. and Europe. That would represent a vast upgrade in U.S. trucking safety standards.

6. “Professional knowledge will become obsolete almost as quickly as it’s acquired. An individual’s professional knowledge is becoming outdated at a much faster rate than ever before. Most professions will require continuous instruction and retraining. Rapid changes in the job market and work-related technologies will necessitate job education for almost every worker. At any given moment, a substantial portion of the labor force will be in job retraining programs.”

We all must be lifelong learners. Increasingly sophisticated technology will require that everyone in the trucking industry go through regular retraining. Companies that provide training programs should do well. Trucking companies that do not invest in retraining will not survive.

Lawyers who litigate trucking cases must also invest in perpetual retraining. Though I have over 30 years experience as a trial lawyer, I get 60 or 70 hours of continuing legal education credit every year, in the best national programs I can find, compared to the mere 12 hours of CLE required by Bar rules. There is a long list of highly technical courses in the field that I plan to complete when time permits. Of course, with more internet delivery of educational programs, much more will be available everywhere. Those who do not continually retrain in any field will fall behind.

7. “The race for biomedical and genetic enhancement will-in the twenty-first century-be what the space race was in the previous century.”

I’m not smart enough to see how this will affect trucking safety or litigation in my time.

8. “Urbanization will hit 60% by 2030. As more of the world’s population lives in cities, rapid development to accommodate them will make existing environmental and socioeconomic problems worse. Epidemics will be more common due to crowded dwelling units and poor sanitation. Global warming may accelerate due to higher carbon dioxide output and loss of carbon-absorbing plants.”

See # 2 above. Increased competition for resources and worsening living conditions can easily feed instability, increasing security threats.

9. The Middle East will become more secular while religious influence in China will grow. Popular support for religious government is declining in places like Iraq, according to a University of Michigan study. The researchers report that in 2004 only one-fourth of respondents polled believed that Iraq would be a better place if religion and politics were separated. By 2007, that proportion was one-third. Separate reports indicate that religion in China will likely increase as an indirect result of economic activity and globalization.

This may be a countervailing force with regard to security threats discussed above. Less religious fanaticism in the Middle East and more religious faith in China looks good from where I sit. If we could see more positive influence of religion in our own country, that would be positive too.

10. Access to electricity will reach 83% of the world by 2030. Electrification has expanded around the world, from 40% connected in 1970 to 73% in 2000, and may reach 83% of the world’s people by 2030. Electricity is fundamental to raising living standards and access to the world’s products and services. Impoverished areas such as sub-Saharan Africa still have low rates of electrification; for instance, Uganda is just 3.7% electrified.

Rural electrification came to most of the U.S. when my parents were young. In my father’s early childhood, the children studied by the light of kerosene lamps. He has clear memories of when they electric lines reached their home, bringing a radio and much broader access to the world.

When remote and poverty stricken areas of the world get access to electricity, they will be plunged immediately into the world economy and culture through television and the internet. Services that are now outsourced to India may tomorrow be outsourced to Uganda or Rwanda. Internet scams that today emerge from Nigeria may tomorrow be centered in Rwanda or Angola.

With access to the world culture and economy, youth in those areas will have a revolution of rising expectations, which may provide eager volunteers for terrorist or criminal groups. See discussion of security concerns above.

With greater access to electricity, Third World youth will also have greater access to education and opportunities to learn English. To the extent they can obtain visas to enter the U.S. — or enter illegally — they will be eager applicants to fill the lower economic rungs many industries, including trucking. To the extent that a new loophole created by the Georgia Court of Appeals is permitted to stand, then we can expect trucking companies to go through their designated agents to hire Third World drivers without even a CDL qualification driving unregulated trucks in order to totally evade all financial responsibility to injured members of the public.

Like weather forecasts, predictions by futurists are often wrong. However, if you don’t keep an eye out for the waves you aren’t likely to catch one. In the words of Shakespeare’s Brutus:

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

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.