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Tractor trailer cabs have fatal lack of rollover protection

Truckers have a tough, dangerous job. While my trucking accident law practice in Atlanta, Georgia, is often focused on representing folks in smaller vehicles who are on the receiving end of highly unfavorable physics in collisions, I also represent some truckers.

Two news stories this week highlight one of the dangerous realities of trucking. The cabs of road tractors are not built with driver safety as a primary consideration.

A 26 year old truck driver in New Jersey was killed at Whitehall, NY, when his tractor trailer skidded, jack-knifed and rolled over. Virtually the same thing happened in another fatal truck rollover on the Maine Turnpike.

While many passenger cars today have strong internal frames equivalent to a roll cage, the roofs of most road tractors have little or no occupant protection design. There are at least a couple of possible factors in that, including the lack of occupant safety rules governing manufacturers and the desire of trucking companies to avoid any additional weight that is not directly related to moving freight. When a huge road tractor has a roof with the structural integrity of a soft drink can rolls over, the driver doesn’t have much of a chance.

I won’t speculate on how much of a factor it may be that many road tractors are chosen by employers for drivers on whose lives they purchase “dead peasant” life insurance, rather than by parents as vehicles in which to transport their children. There may not be a causal relationship there at all.

Ken Shigley is a trucking safety trial attorney representing seriously injured people and families of people killed in tractor trailer, big rig, semi, intermodal container freight, log truck, cement truck, dump truck, log truck and bus accidents statewide in Georgia.

Mr. Shigley has a background in automotive products liability litigation, and has extensive experience representing parties in interstate trucking collision cases, and in the past two years has spoken at national interstate trucking litigation seminars in Chicago (trucking insurance), New Orleans (trial tactics and side underride issues), St. Louis (punitive damages), San Francisco (dealing with insolvent trucking companies), Atlanta (trucking insurance, closing argument), Nashville (use of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations), and Amelia Island (overview of trucking litigation).

Mr. Shigley served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute and is a national board member of the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group. He is currently Treasurer of the 41,000 member State Bar of Georgia, of which he will become President-Elect on 6/19/10 and President in on 6/4/11. This blog expresses only personal views of Mr. Shigley, and nothing in it should be construed as expressing any opinion on behalf of any organization of which Mr. Shigley is a member or officer.

A Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, he 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). In addition to trucking litigation, he has broad experience in products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, spinal cord injury, brain injury and burn injury cases. This post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.

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One response to “Tractor trailer cabs have fatal lack of rollover protection”

  1. Donald J Kaleta says:

    PLEASE GOOGLE “DEFORMABLE KINGPIN” that explains a simple to understand solution to forbid a tractor to follow into destruction during rollover events. The concept is the same as to why you have fuses or circuit breakers in electrical systems in your home, office or car — a failsafe — to prevent further destruction. This innovation is a simple modification of a component, the trailer’s coupling kingpin, whose design has been a standard for over 70 years, which can be made to deform and not allow an extremely stable tractor to follow to destruction when the trailer, that is the dominant controlling force, is in IMMINENT peril for rollover, that includes also blown over tractor trailers. The NHTSA & FMCSA continue to turn their backs and ignore their past funded research conclusions, as the trucking industry evolves greater unstable tractor trailers on our highways that have a primary attribute for increasing payload capacity. These catastrophes will continue to occur in thousands of accidents of this type each year as they have in the past, and continue to cause infrastructure damage that will harm and kill many hundreds of tractor occupants annually. These combination vehicles are incendiary bombs when carrying flammable material in tankers, and the flash point for these fires starts with the tractor’s involvement. A statement received from the FMCSA states “There are a variety of technologies for preventing rollover crashes and we believe motor carriers should have as much flexibility as possible in selecting technologies to prevent crashes.” Clearly the fox is allowed to guard the hen house!!! The harm, death & destruction will continue with combination vehicle rollover accidents. Donald J. Kaleta