Articles Posted in Truck driver safety

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This week in north Georgia there was a fatal crash between a tour bus en route to a North Carolina casino and a tractor trailer blocking traffic lanes while waiting to turn left. This happened on Georgia Highway 515 (also known as the Zell Miller Mountain Highway) at the intersection with Whitestone Road in Gilmer County.  The bus driver was killed and 43 passengers suffered a variety of injuries.

The preliminary investigation by the Georgia State Patrol  blamed the truck driver. Troopers reported that the truck driver was making a left turn onto Highway 515 southbound when he paused for traffic, leaving the trailer projecting across and blocking northbound lanes. The northbound bus driver was reportedly unable to avoid crashing into the truck’s trailer. However, first reports are not always conclusive.

This crash highlights issues with both tractor trailer operation and tour bus operation.

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maxresdefaultPeople may enjoy watching “Ice Road Truckers” on television. But there is nothing entertaining about a tractor trailer bearing down upon you at excessive speed, out of control on an icy highway.

A truck driver from Georgia has been charged with three counts of “three charges of grossly negligent driving with death resulting,” the Vermont equivalent of vehicular homicide.

Last December 29, Lashawn Jones, 41, of Alpharetta, Georgia, was driving Roehl Transport Inc. tractor trailer on slush and ice on U.S. 4 near the Killington Ski Resort in Vermont. The truck driver lost control on slush and ice and collided head on with a vehicle occupied by three people – Ryszard and Anita Malarczyk from Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, and their friend, Jaroslaw Karczewski from Poland. All three were killed in the crash.

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On Scene Doug Stephens DOT (39)Imagine that a commercial airliner crashed every other week in the United States, month after month, year after year. That is the level of carnage we have today in large truck crashes on America’s highways. In 2013, there were 3,964 people killed and an estimated 95,000 people injured in crashes involving large trucks, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That year an estimated 342,000 large trucks were involved in police-reported traffic crashes during 2013. Of the fatalities in 2013, 71 percent were occupants of other vehicles, 17 percent were occupants of large trucks, and 11 percent were nonoccupants.

In our law practice, we see a portion of this carnage all the time. After years of seeing the aftermath of immeasurable damage to human bodies, and tucking into sealed files the photos I can never show to family members of the deceased, I still cringe at those sights.

Why does this mayhem continue on our highways, year after year? Here are some of the major cause:

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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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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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Will some truck drivers alter their routes and schedules to avoid safety inspections during a 72-hour period of enhanced truck inspections across North America next week? For years, I have heard from truck drivers stories of how they would take alternate routes to avoid speed limit enforcement and safety inspections. Once, when my daughter was attending a college in a neighboring state, a truck driver told me that she should avoid a certain non-Interstate route because all the truckers who wanted to evade the law took that route.

28th Annual International Roadcheck Begins June 2, 2015
The 28th Annual International Roadcheck will take place between June 2 and June 5, 2015. The Roadcheck is conducted by The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance together with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, Transport Canada, and the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation in Mexico.
Within the 72-hour period, there will be over 10,000 certified commercial truck and bus inspectors on the roads of North America. Some believe that because of heightened scrutiny, many carriers will choose not to operate during the three day period. The goal of the campaign is to average 17 inspections per minute over a 72-hour period.

North American Standard Level I Inspection
According to The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the North American Standard Level I Inspection will be conducted, which is the most thorough roadside inspection. “It is a 37-step procedure that includes a thorough examination of both the driver and vehicle. Drivers will be asked to provide items such as their license, endorsements, medical card and hours-of-service documentation, and will be checked for seat belt usage and the use of alcohol and/or drugs. The vehicle inspection includes checking items such as the braking system, coupling devices, exhaust system, frame, fuel system, lights, safe loading, steering mechanism, drive line, suspension, tires, van and open-top trailer bodies, wheels and rims, windshield wipers, and emergency exits on buses.”

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In 2003, a 15-year-old girl who had been in Brownies with my daughter was killed when her family’s vehicle was rear-ended by a tractor trailer on an interstate highway. She was riding in the back seat en route to a summer camp. The truck driver was charged with DUI. That event is in the back of my mind whenever a question arises of whether a truck driver may have been impaired at the time of a crash.

To be clear, most interstate truck drivers are highly responsible, safety conscious and would never dream of driving when impaired from alcohol or drugs.

But there are those who use stimulants, sometimes including meth or cocaine, to stay up for long driving hours, or who get behind the wheel after drinking. Others use either prescription or over the counter drugs which can affect attentiveness.

Aware of that risk, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require mandatory post-accident alcohol and drug tests whenever anyone is killed or removed from that crash scene by ambulance, and when any vehicle is towed from a wreck with an interstate commercial vehicle and when.

Until now, however, there has not been an easy way to check on whether a truck driver has a history of driving under the influence.

On February 20th, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a proposed rule that would establish a database of drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) who have failed or refused to take a drug or alcohol test. This clearinghouse may help improve roadway safety by making it easier to determine whether a truck or bus driver is prohibited from operating a commercial motor vehicle for failing to comply with federal drug and alcohol regulations, including mandatory testing.

Current federal regulations require employers to conduct mandatory pre-employment screening of CDL driver qualifications based upon their driving record. However, there are not been a single federal repository recording positive drug and alcohol tests by CDL holder that employers would be able to search to ensure the driver is able to perform at a job where safety is the number one concern.

“Safety is our highest priority, and we will continue to embrace new tools and opportunities that protect the travelers on our nation’s roads,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Today’s proposal will help ensure dangerous drivers stay off the road, while encouraging the employment of the many safe drivers who follow our drug and alcohol requirements.”

The proposed rule would give employers access to invaluable information with ease. The new rule also require employers to conduct pre-employment searches through the repository for all new CDL drivers and annual searched on drivers they currently employ.

“We are leveraging technology to create a one-stop verification point to help companies hire drug and alcohol-free drivers,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “This proposal moves us further down the road toward improving safety for truck and bus companies, commercial drivers and the motoring public everywhere.”

Under the proposed regulation, FMCSA-regulated truck and bus companies, Medical Review Officers, Substance Abuse Professionals, and private third-party USDOT drug and alcohol testing laboratories would be required to record information about any driver who:

• Fails a drug and/or alcohol test
• Refuses to submit a drug and/or alcohol test; and
• Successfully completes a substance abuse program and is legally qualified to return to duty.

Private, third-party USDOT drug and alcohol testing laboratories would also be required to report summary information annually so that they can help identify companies that do not have a testing program. To ensure the privacy of the drivers involved, each CDL holder would need to provide their consent before an employer could access the clearinghouse.

Drivers who refuse to provide their testing information could still be employed by the truck or bus company; however, they could not occupy safety-sensitive positions such as operating a commercial motor vehicle.

It is a violation of federal regulations to drive a truck or bus under the influence of a controlled substance or under the influence of alcohol. Federal safety regulations require that truck and bus companies that employ CDL drivers conduct random drug and alcohol testing programs. Carriers must randomly test 10 percent of their CDL drivers for alcohol and 50 percent of their CDL drivers for drugs each year.
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As a trucking accident personal injury and wrongful death lawyer based in Atlanta, I get a chance to see the trucking safety issues from the point of view of both innocent folks who are run over by tractor trailers and truck drivers who are themselves put at risk by companies that care too little about safety.

A blogging truck driver at Go By Truck News wrote this week that “A rogue motor carrier is a truck driver’s worst nightmare.”

He wrote that last year, D.A. Landis Trucking, Inc. was charged with conspiracy for ordering drivers to falsify their daily logbooks, maintain two sets of logs, falsely certify accuracy of the lying logs, had dispatchers also knowingly dispatched drivers on trips that were truck accidentto exceed hours-of-service requirements.

That is old news to those of us who have been digging through truck drivers’ logs and trip documents and both deposing and interviewing truck drivers.

He also gathered these tweets from tired truck drivers:

– “My dispatcher goes retarded when I tried to tell them I have only 1 hr left to drive.”

– “I have heard this from many dispatchers before. Come on we need you for one more.”

– “When it comes to driving we have 65mph trks n 100mph dispatchers with 26 hrs in a day!”

– “Dispatch was kind enough to plan my first load for 4am central time. My paperwork is invalid and dispatch won’t be in for another 3 hrs.”

Go By Truck News urges truck drivers to check the safety records of any company they consider working for, and to make sure they know the rules, including these:

FMCSR 392.6 Schedules to conform with speed limits. “No motor carrier shall require a run nor permit nor require the operation of any commercial motor vehicle between points in such period of time as would necessitate the commercial vehicle being operated at speed greater than those prescribed by the jurisdictions in or through which the commercial motor vehicle is being operated.”

FMCSR 390.13 Aiding or abetting violations. “No person shall aid, abet, encourage, or require a motor carrier or its employees to violate the rules of this chapter.”

FMCSR 392.3 Ill or fatigued operator. “No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.” (This regulation was mentioned in my prior article and worth repeating again here).

He is spot on in stating that, “A good safety director will educate a driver about these regulations, rewarding and not penalizing a driver for declining to take a load if they are too fatigued. A good company with a pattern of safe behavior will give a trucker an opportunity to develop a disciplined sleep routine.”

He urges that, “it’s often the employer / load planner / dispatcher pushing the trucker beyond their limits. However, all truckers should take a stand with the Trucker Mike’s ‘Mantra’ – ‘I will NEVER let anyone ‘push’ me, instead I’ll be fired for being SAFE if need be!'”

This afternoon, my friend Steve Gursten in Michigan forwarded this plea he received from a truck driver who wants to drive safely but works for a rogue trucking company that won’t allow him to follow the law:

The company that I drive for has me doing illegal runs. I feel if I don’t do them my miles will be cut or they will find a way to get rid of me. I need to care for my family. I have been too many companies and they are all the same. The one I’m with now is the worst. I’m looking for other employment and coping the best I can. Is there anyone I can talk to like a whistle blower organization? Or maybe a letter too the sec of transportation? Companies, dispatchers, shippers and receivers need to be held accountable. Until we have better legislation in place to address this, us truckers will always be at the bottom of the hill. And of course we know which direction s##t rolls.

Wow!

That is right in line with my impression over the years that most truck drivers are just ordinary good guys working hard to make a living, but are too often pushed by employers, motor carriers, shippers, brokers, etc., to make illegal runs on impossible schedules, so that they are often pushed beyond the limits of human endurance.

That is why I generally try to handle these cases by digging for a root cause analysis in the corporate safety management system — or lack thereof.

I suggested referring this guy to Truckers Justice Center in Minnesota, operated by a lawyer who represents whistle blowing truck drivers nationwide
If your or a family member were run over by a tractor trailer, or if you are a truck driver badly injured in the line of duty, I would be glad to talk with you with no obligation.
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Despite the political gridlock and recent shutdown of the federal government, Congress has managed to pass legislation to address the danger of sleep apnea in the trucking industry. At this writing, it awaits the President’s signature.

House Resolution 3095 is a simple, two-page bill sponsored by two members of Congress sped through Congress. It requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to commit to formal rule making on sleep apnea testing and treatment for truckers and other professional drivers.

The trucking industry, predictably enough, estimates that “the impact of screening, diagnosis, and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea could exceed $1 billion annually.” But that is a bargain compared to the carnage on the highways due to drivers of 80,000 pound tractor trailers falling asleep at the wheel.

The downside of this, warns my friend Michael Leizerman in Ohio, is that by requiring the FMCSA to go through full rulemaking and cost-benefit analysis when addressing screening, testing or treatment of sleep apnea, it may delay rather than speed up efforts to address the very real problem of sleep apnea. As Michael pointed out in a recent blog post, the FMCSA has already published the online Fatigue Management Training program and has many simple and inexpensive ideas to make fatigue awareness part of a motor carrier’s safety culture.

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to fatigued driving and is thus a medically disqualifying condition for truck drivers. FMCSR 391.41(b)(5). We have seen too many cases in which our clients were run over by truck drivers who were often good folks but were dangerous behind the wheel due to fatigue, drowsiness and untreated sleep apnea.

As Michael Leizerman has pointed out, this legislation requires the FMCSA to go through a full rule making process which will add years of delay to the implementation of much needed efforts to forcefully address the problem of sleep apnea among truck drivers.
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Sgt. Ronald Nabors was a decorated Marine who survived his honorable service in Afghanistan but his life was taken by a tractor trailer in Georgia. In Albany, Georgia, on Sunday, June 30the, his motorcycle crashed into the passenger side door a tractor-trailer truck that turned left in front of him into a Pilot truck stop. Sgt. Nabors, 26, a Texas native, who was stationed at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, was traveling north on his Harley Davidson motorcycle along Cordele Road when the collision happened.

Possible charges are pending against the driver of the tractor-trailer operated by Millis Transfer, Inc. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records, that company is based in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, but the company website lists a terminal in Carterville, Georgia. News reports to not mention whether the alcohol and drug tests required under federal law were done.

It is speculative to guess why this tragedy happened, but some of the likely suspects in similar truck crashes are:

Illegal left turn. Georgia law requires that the driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction that is within the intersection or so close to it as to constitute an immediate hazard.
Possible hours of service violation. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require that drivers of commercial vehicles in interstate commerce drive no more than 11 hours out of 14 hours on duty, then take a 10 hour rest break, and to get longer weekly breaks. We often see hours of service violations in truck drivers from the Midwest traveling to Georgia. I don’t know whether that is the case here.
Truck driver impairment due to fatigue, medication, illness, etc. This often goes hand in hand with hours of service violations, but we also often see drivers impaired by medication.
Possible use of a hand held cell phone or other driver distraction. A relatively new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rule restricts the use of all hand-held mobile devices by drivers of commercial vehicles. My guess is that the Georgia State Patrol Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team (SCRT) is checking any cell phone SIM card and billing records.

Georgia wrongful death law gives designated survivors the right to bring a wrongful death action against the responsible parties. In Georgia, there can be two separate claims that may be asserted against a person or corporation who negligently causes a death:

– A “wrongful death” claim for the “full value of the life” which belongs to survivors designated by statute. If there is neither a spouse nor child surviving, then the decedent’s parents have the right to sue under Georgia law. If the parents of a deceased child are divorced or living apart, the trial court has full discretion to allocate the wrongful death recovery between them, considering any pertinent factors.
– A “survival action” which belongs to the estate and is brought by the executor or administrator of the deceased for pain and suffering before death, medical expense and funeral expense. This claim may be filed by the administrator or executor of the decedent’s estate.

Ken Shigley is past president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12), past chair of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education in Georgia board of trustees (2012-13), board certified civil trial and pretrial advocate (National Board of Legal Specialty Certification) lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (2010-13). His Atlanta-based practice focuses on cases of wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury, including brain injury and spinal cord injury.
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