Articles Posted in Truck driver distraction

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Cherokee county mapLast week in Cherokee County, a Comcast truck failed to stop behind a car that had stopped to turn, went into the opposite lane, and struck head-on an oncoming car, killing the driver.

According to media reports, at the intersection of Ga. 140 and Avery Road, a Ford Fiesta  stopped to turn left onto Avery Road just before 12:30 p.m. on September 28, 2015.  For unknown reasons, a Comcast truck steered to the left to avoid hitting the Ford and traveled into the westbound lanes striking a Chevy pickup head-on.

The driver of the pickup — who I understand was a really good guy with whom I have several friend in common —   died at the scene of the crash. The driver of the Comcast truck and an occupant of the Fiesta were also injured.

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burritoDistracted driving accidents often involve cell phones, texting and other electronic devices. For example, we recently concluded a case in which a truck driver was talking on his cell phone with someone in South America for nearly half an hour before he ran over a line of stopped traffic.

But something as apparently innocuous as eating and drinking is very often a fatal distraction too. We have had several cases in which a truck driver leaned over to pick up a dropped water bottle when he ran over other vehicles, killing or seriously injuring the occupants.

In this recent case in Albequerque, New Mexico, a bus driver was caught on video eating a burrito with both hands when he crashed into another vehicle and caused a chain reaction with other cars.

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One day in Kansas City, I took the deposition testimony through an interpreter of a Bosnian immigrant truck driver. He was driving with a Florida Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) when he crashed an 18-wheeler into my client on a Georgia interstate highway.

I asked where he got his truck driver training. He said some Russian guy in North Carolina, whose name he could not recall, trained him. How did he study the Commercial Drivers License manual, published in English?   He said his 10-year-old daughter read it and translated it for him. She may have been a precocious child, but really? I didn’t think then to dig into how he was able to take and pass the Florida CDL tests.

For several years, a high percentage of our serious truck crash cases have involved immigrant truck drivers who have to testify through interpreters. They drive the highways of America in little bubbles of their home countries, talking by cell phone as they drive with people in their home countries, listening to music in a native dialect, and never really interacting with America language or culture.

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Georgians are shocked and saddened today by a truck crash on I-16 in Bryan County that snuffed out the promising young lives of five nursing students at Georgia Southern University.

The grief is personal for a 2013 Georgia Southern graduate in our office who was a close friend of two of the five girls who were killed. For me as the father of two young adults, I shudder to comprehend their parents’ loss. One friend on the coast described the whole event as “surreal.”

The crash happened about 5:45 AM in predawn darkness on Wednesday. The five nursing students were in a sedan and SUV headed east on I-16, going to their last day of clinical training for the semester at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital in Savannah. Traffic had slowed due to another accident ahead.

A tractor trailer failed to stop and crashed into the stopped traffic, causing a seven vehicle pileup. The Georgia Southern students were in an SUV and a passenger car, both of which were impacted. The passenger car burst into flames.

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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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For years we have explored cell phone distraction as a factor in the cause of motor vehicle accidents, including commercial trucking accidents. Discovery of cell phone records has become routine in litigation. We have read all the studies, deposed the experts and argued about the legal ramifications. I won’t rehash all that here.

Now the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued a rule barring use of hand held cell phones by commercial truck drivers in interstate commerce. The agency stated the rationale for the rule in part as follows:

Using a hand-held mobile telephone may reduce a driver’s situational awareness, decision making, or performance; and it may result in a crash, near-crash, unintended lane departure by the driver, or other unsafe driving action. Indeed, research indicates that reaching for and dialing hand-held mobile telephones are sources of driver distraction that pose a specific safety risk.

The agency summarizes much of the research on cell phone distraction in explaining its conclusion that “it is the action of taking one’s eyes off the forward roadway to reach for and dial a hand-held mobile telephone … that has the greatest risk.”
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Federal trucking safety rules continue to expand on commercial truck drivers’ texting or calling while they drive As a trial attorney handling tractor trailer and big rig crash cases throughout Georgia, I see how important this can be in trucking accident cases.

The latest Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published April 29 by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, part of DOT, would prohibit use of a handheld cell phone by drivers moving a quantity of hazardous materials that must be placarded under 49 CFR Part 172 or any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR Part 73 in intrastate commerce.

This would expand upon rules already proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (also part of DOT). FMCSA barred texting by commercial motor vehicle drivers in a September 2010 final rule. It proposed to restrict the use of hand-held mobile phones in a Dec. 21, 2010,

PHMSA estimates that there are approximately 1,490 intrastate motor carriers that could be affected by this rulemaking.
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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%
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When a tractor trailer crashed into a passenger van in March, killing 11 Mennonites en route to a wedding, the truck driver from Alabama had been continually on his cell phone and speeding up to 80 mph, according to the Kentucky State Police report.

Right now I’m working on a brief opposing a motion to exclude my expert witness from testifying about cell phone distraction in driving. I am scheduled to speak on driver distraction in trucking at the American Association for Justice convention in Vancouver this July. The Kentucky crash provides more material for that presentation.
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In the Georgia legislature, two proposed bills would crack down on texting while driving. Both have been sent to a study committee.

HB 938 would prohibit the use of wireless telecommunications devices for sending or reading text messages while operating a motor vehicle. A conviction would be punishable by a fine of not less than $50.00 nor more than $100.00. In addition, two points would be assessed to violators of this provision. The bill provides exceptions for engaging in a wireless communication using a wireless telecommunications device in emergency situations.

This bill would amend Code Section 40-5-57.4 by requiring the driver’s license of any operator of a motor vehicle, who is determined to be at fault for causing an automobile accident while texting, be suspended. A first suspension shall be for a period of 90 days. A second or subsequent suspension shall be for a period of six months. The suspension will terminate after the suspension period and when the person pays a restoration fee of $60.00 or, $50.00 when processed by mail.

HB 944 would prohibit a person from writing, sending, or reading a text-based communication on a wireless telecommunications device while operating a motor vehicle. It provides for exceptions in emergency situations. Any conviction for a violation would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $300.00.
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