Articles Posted in Truck driver safety

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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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This morning at 5 AM, 2 EMTs and their patient in an ambulance were killed in a collision with a jackknifing tractor trailer.

According to early news reports, a car pulled over to yield to the approaching ambulance, with its lights and siren activated, as required under Georgia law, and the tractor trailer then jackknifed into the path of the ambulance.

The Georgia State Patrol’s Specialized Crash Reconstruction Team is investigating. It is early to speculate about what laws may have been violated, but possibilities include:
Following too closely
– Speed too fast for conditions – Failure of semi driver to yield to approaching emergency vehicle
– Possible hours of service violation if investigation reveals trucker was long haul driver in interstate commerce and had not complied with rule requiring 10 hour rest break after operating no more than 11 hours in 14 hour work day, etc.
– Possible driver distraction theories.

Investigation will probably include examination of data in the truck engine’s electronic control module (ECM) if it was turned on, in any Qualcomm or other satellite communications system, and in any GPS device in the truck. We find that sometimes when ECM data is lost or destroyed a GPS provides speed and hours of service data.
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Driver fatigue is a major cause of truck crashes among drivers of commercial tractor trailers, semis and big rigs. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations mandate that truck drivers can drive only 11 hours out of a 14 hour work day, followed by a 10 hour rest break. There are also restrictions on weekly totals. Handling injury and death cases arising from truck accidents in Georgia, I often seen cases where drivers were too fatigued to drive safely.

But most of us have personal experience to know that a driver can be dangerously sleepy in far less than 11 hours of driving.

Australian researchers have confirmed what we intuitively know. Caffeine can help maintain driver alertness. But caffeine alone is not enough, and naps can help too. In “Use of caffeinated substances and risk of crashes in long distance drivers of commercial vehicles: case-control study,” published at BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f1140 ( 19 March 2013), Lisa N Sharwood and her collaborators reported on their study.

Their bottom line:

– Caffeine helps, but that alone is not enough.

– Breaks help, whether used for naps, exercise or drinking coffee.

All this seems like common sense, but it bears repeating. One problem in the trucking industry is that trucking companies and shippers sometimes insist on driving the maximum hours allowed (or longer), so that no credit is given for drivers who take breaks to help maintain alertness within those hours.

However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations include not just the hours of service rules but also a more general restriction against operating a commercial vehicle when too fatigued or ill to safely do so.
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Drivers of commercial tractor trailers, semis and big rigs are responsible for piloting an 80,000 pound rocket down highways shared with you and your family.

You may pray that they are well-trained, well-managed, safe and responsible. Most are. Some are not.

The duties of a commercial truck driver are spelled out in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, Commercial Drivers License (CDL) manuals, training materials published by industry associations and companies such as J. J. Keller, and company policies and procedures. While only statutes and regulations have the force of law, the others may be used as evidence of standards of care and of negligence when violated.

Some of the truck driver’s duties include:

– Know and understand the safety regulations and policies.

– Perform pre-trip and post-trip inspections, carefully going through a detailed checklist of the tractor and trailer.

A proper pre-trip inspection takes an experienced truck driver 20 to 30 minutes.Too often in truck accident cases we find inspections were no more than a quick walk-around or less, with a vertical line hurriedly drawn down the checklist rather than even bothering to inspect and check off each item. Earlier this week I was at a truck stop for my expert’s inspection of a tractor trailer involved in a fatal accident when we saw another truck driver do a 20 second “pre-trip inspection” that involved glancing at his tires. The result of inadequate pre-trip inspection can be operation of an 80,000 pound truck on the highway with unsafe equipment.

– Understand and comply with hours of service regulations, and truthfully log their driving, on-duty but not driving and off-duty time.

They are limited to driving 11 hours in a 14 hour work day, after which they must take a 10 hour rest break. The driver is responsible for planning a route with the hours of service rules in mind, and for notifying dispatch when he is out of legal hours.

I have handled cases in which drivers falsified logs in order to appear legal far beyond exhaustion of both their legal hours of operation and their bodies. Sometimes they are pressed to drive far beyond legal hours by trucking company dispatchers, third party logistics companies, freight brokers, shippers and consignees who turn a blind eye to safety. Those companies may share the legal blame, but the truck driver is still responsible as the pilot of the ship.

– Inspect his cargo to make sure it is safely distributed and secured before the trip, at particular points en route, and at the end of a trip.

Except when taking a sealed trailer that he is not allowed to open without special permission, the driver is required to inspect inside the trailer to make sure weight is properly distributed and the right methods and equipment have been employed to prevent the lad from shifting.

When operating a truck with a flatbed trailer, the driver must assure that the load is and remains securely tied down, following commodity-specific rules in order to prevent spilling, leaking, falling or blowing of cargo.

A while back, I handled a case in which a truck driver failed to secure a forklift on a flatbed trailer, with the result that the forklift came loose in a curve on a mountain road and landed on top of an oncoming vehicle. Police and the coroner were picking pieces of people out of that flattened car for days.

– Plan a route that takes into account weight limitations on roads and bridges, low height restrictions of bridges and tunnels, railroad crossings, one way streets and awkward turns.

A confused or careless truck driver can kill people when attempting a u-turn that blocks a highway in the dark or stuck in a railroad crossing or low bridge.

– Use extreme caution when road or adverse weather conditions affect traction or visibility, and if necessary pull off the road and wait for conditions improve. CDL manuals instruct truck drivers to reduce speed by one-third in rainy conditions.

When a tractor trailer hydroplanes in a rain slick curve and knack knifes at highway speed into oncoming traffic, only a miracle an prevent deaths or catastrophic injuries, including that of the truck driver himself.


– Stop driving when ill or fatigued, even if still within the legal hours of service.

Sometimes we find that truck drivers work second jobs or pursue other activities during the required rest periods, so that. They are unsafely fatigued even when inside legal hours of operation. Other times we find truckers returning to work too soon after an illness, such as one who got a chiropractor to issue DOT medical certificate two weeks after open heart surgery.

Safety should always come first.

– Whenever stopped on the side of the road, truck drivers must activate hazard flashers, then put out reflective triangles or flares at specified locations behind the trailer.

– Hang up and drive.

Federal rules now ban use of hand held cell phones as well as text messaging during operation of a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.

– Obey all state and local traffic laws.

Truckers must also obey local peed limits, traffic control devices, etc.

There is much more that could be included, but this may give you a taste of the issues we examine regarding truck driver duties.
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NOTE TO TRUCK DRIVERS:
Our law practice focuses on representation of people who are seriously injured, and families of those killed, in crashes with large commercial vehicles. While those are often truck drivers, we do not handle truckers’ employment law matters. For legal advice on issues with your employer, see Truckers Justice Center. 

When we share the road with semi tractor trailer drivers who pilot 80,000 pound big rigs on highways across the country, we hope they are well-qualified and safety conscious. Most are but some are not.

Among the many things I examine as a trucking accident litigation trial attorney in Georgia are the qualifications, experience and background of the truck driver.

Commercial truck and bus drivers are required to have knowledge of and comply with all government trucking safety regulations and company policies. Motor carriers operating truck and bus lines are required to make sure drivers are adequately trained and monitor drivers’ performance.

Entry level truck drivers must obtain a Commercial Driver’s License, usually referred to as a CDL. That requires training in driver qualifications, hours of service, safe operations and whistle blower protection. The CDL manuals for all states in the US are materially identical. Drivers are required to know and understand pertinent provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, so the CDL manual explains the regs in simpler, graphic terms.

Drivers of specialized commercial vehicles need additional training specific to those types of vehicles. Trade organizations and safety materials publishing companies produce training videos and manuals for a wide variety of specialized commercial vehicles such as concrete mixer trucks, crane trucks, etc.

These CDL manuals and specialized training materials are extremely useful in cross examining truck drivers after they crash.

In applying for a truck driving job, a truck driver must provide his or her CDL, employment history, driving records, record of convictions and violations, medical history, drug and alcohol history, and physical exam.

Trucking companies are required to conduct a road test of the driver, testing knowledge, skills, experience and training, using the same type vehicle the driver is expected to operate. The test must be conducted by an employee who is qualified to do so.

When representing the victims of a catastrophic semi tractor trailer crash, all this fair game for thorough and sifting examination. Any lawyer who thinks a commercial truck crash is just a bigger car wreck will be clueless and unprepared, vastly reducing the prospects for success in representing his client. That is why our years of experience in trucking litigation matters.

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations; Truck Accident Litigation (3d edition)

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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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This weekend an 18-wheeler that crashed and overturned at the Interstate 65/85 interchange in Montgomery, Alabama. Fortunately, no injuries were reported in this incident, unlike a fatal crash when a big rig overturned on a ramp Friday in San Jose, California.

While news reports stated the incident was under investigation, one might speculate that the tractor trailer was going too fast in the curve.

Investigation in trucking crashes often extends beyond what happened immediately on the roadway. We often find that a pattern of disregard for safety in the management of the trucking company is an underlying factor. It may involve negligence in hiring, training and supervision of truck drivers, failure to adequately monitor compliance with hours of service rules, and failure to monitor driver speed and operations.

In Georgia, we represent families and individuals in serious neck and back injury, burn injury, brain injury, amputation injury, spinal cord injury, fracture injury and wrongful death cases arising from tractor trailer and big rig crashes.
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Fatalities in large truck accidents increased 8.7% in 2010, according to a report released last week by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

NHTSA said in its annual report that 3,675 people died in trucking related accidents in 2010, an increase of 295 over the 3,380 fatalities in 2009. The number injured in trucking accidents increased 12% from 17,000 to 19,000. (Those number are surely rounded off.)

NHTSA did not clearly identify a cause, but increased truck traffic due to gradual economic recovery is likely a major factor.
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New ideas for trucking safety don’t pop up very often. Thanks to fellow trucking safety trial lawyer Michael Leizerman in Ohio for bringing this one to my attention.

Earlier this month, Illinois enacted a law to improve the GPS data available to truck drivers. The goal is to provide better routing details specific to trucking in the state, thus helping to reduce accidents and traffic.

Effective January 1, 2012, Illinois state and local governments will be required to inform the Illinois Department of Transportation about details of preferred trucking routes, weight restrictions on roads, and height limitations for bridges and overpasses. The Illinois DOT will then post this information on its website.

The new state law also requires streamlining the way cities and towns report designated truck networks and preferred routes, and merger of databases that contain important data such as overpass heights. The new law will also help educate truckers about the benefits of using GPS devices created specially for them.

This is an idea I hope our Georgia legislators will consider.
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The Safe Roads Act, proposed bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators Mark Pryor and John Boozman, both of Arkansas, would tighten the handling of truckers‘ drug and alcohol tests. If passed into law, this bill would require medical review officers, employers, and service agents to report to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) any positive drug or alcohol test results
The bill would also establish a drug test database for commercial drivers and require employers to check it prior to hiring a truck driver. The database is the recommendation of the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Currently, some big rig commercial truckers keep driving tractor trailers Drug and alcohol testing requirements do exist, but some truckers keep driving big rigs even after they test positive. Not all job applicants report their drug test history when seeking a job, not all carriers do full background checks, and some self-employed drivers just ignore the rules. In recent studies, about 68,000 commercial drivers tested positive for drug use, out of a total of 3.4 million.

In my Georgia trucking accident trial practice, I have sued trucking companies that show a nearly total disregard for rules requiring drug tests and truck driver background checks. In one recent case, a trucking company had been cited for dozens of violations of drug test and background checking rules within three years before a crash involving a newly hired driver. The new driver, as you might suspect, had not been subjected to a drug test and his background had not been checked before he crashed into a lady in rush hour traffic.

Unfortunately, such scofflaw conduct is all too common among some trucking companies. The Safe Roads Act, if passed, would help, though I have no delusion that it would stop the cheating.

The process of investigation and discovery to uncover such a record of violations requires an attorney experienced in trucking litigation and who knows how to dig out hidden information, and then get it into evidence at trial.
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