Articles Posted in Trucking industry

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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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Large truck operations are governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and largely identical state trucking safety rules. Sometimes people are surprised that these safety rules no not apply to tractor trailers only. Under 49 CFR 390.5, a commercial motor vehicle is defined to include any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle –

a. Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight 10,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater; or
b. Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
c. Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
d. Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous.
Every state has adopted most portions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for intrastate transportation.
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When a loved one is killed or catastrophically injured in a collision with a tractor trailer, there may be a temptation to wait for a “decent interval” before hiring a lawyer who specializes in commercial trucking trial practice. The trucking company’s insurer may encourage that reluctance by saying some soothing things to lull you into inaction.

But it is important to know that the trucking company and its insurance company get a rapid response team to the crash scene before the vehicles are moved. While the victims are in an ambulance or in the emergency room, the trucking company has its investigators massaging evidence and trying to influence the police report.

Some electronic data from tractor trailers may be lost or destroyed within a few days if there is not quick action to assure that it is preserved. Every minute of delay leads to loss of crucial evidence.

Therefore, it is vitally important for the victim’s family to move quickly after a catastrophic truck crash to hire a lawyer who specializes in trucking cases and who can deploy his or her own rapid response team. While responses may be scaled to the seriousness of the case, the ultimate rapid response may include:

• a highly qualified accident reconstruction expert with solid experience in reconstructing crashes involving large commercial vehicles, not just car wreck.

• a trucking safety expert qualified to assess violations of trucking safety rules;

• a conspicuity expert qualified to assess visibility of vehicles in the conditions existing at the time of the crash;

• a forensic evidence photographer qualified to preserve the actual appearance of the vehicles and conditions under existing lighting conditions;

• a human factors expert who can assess perception and reaction under the conditions on
the roadway;

• a forensic computer expert qualified to obtain and interpret the wide array of event data recorders and computers on large commercial trucks.

In a catastrophic truck wreck it is a mistake to rely solely upon the police report, even when reasonably well qualified police accident reconstructionist are involved.
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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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Plans for truck-only lanes on metro Atlanta expressways are among the aspirations cut from the Atlanta Regional Commission’s transportation long-range plans released this week.

The ailing economy and strapped government budgets led the ARC to ax or defer beyond my likely lifetime:

– optional toll lanes alongside I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties
– a component that would carry only tractor trailer trucks
– widening South Cobb Drive from Cobb Parkway to Atlanta Road, and from Atlanta Road to Bolton Road
– widening University Ave. from Metropolitan Parkway to the Downtown Connector
– new interchange at I-675 and and Cedar Grove Road
– mass transit line across northern I-285 from Cumberland to Perimeter Center Continue reading →

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In a major crossroads of interstate truck traffic, we in metro Atlanta frequently see tractor trailers from the nation’s largest trucking companies on our roads. Wherever they travel in the United States, they are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

Here are the top 100 public trucking carriers in the US in 2010, the largest of which is UPS, based right here in metro Atlanta:

UPS Inc.
FedEx Corp.
DHL USA YRC Worldwide Inc.
Ryder System Con-way Inc.
Penske Truck Leasing Co.
J.B. Hunt Transport Services Schneider National Inc.
Swift Transportation Landstar System Sirva Inc.
Werner Enterprises TransForce Inc.
UniGroup Inc.
Arkansas Best Corp.
U.S. Xpress Enterprises Estes Express Lines Purolator Courier Ltd.
Old Dominion Freight Line Greatwide Logistics Services C.R. England Inc.
Crete Carrier Corp.
Saia Inc.
Prime Inc.
NFI Industries Averitt Express Atlas World Group Southeastern Freight Lines Ruan Transportation Management Systems Lynden Inc.
CRST International Kenan Advantage Group Knight Transportation Vitran Corp.
Quality Distribution Inc.
Covenant Transportation Group Anderson Trucking Service Marten Transport Trimac Group Universal Truckload Services Inc.
Celadon Group Stevens Transport Dart Transit Co.
Interstate Distributor Co.
Heartland Express Roadrunner Transportation Systems TransX Group Western Express Shevell Group AAA Cooper Transportation Forward Air Corp.
Comcar Industries USA Truck RoadLink Frozen Food Express Industries Canada Cartage System Contrans Group Mullen Group Central Refrigerated Service Inc.
Dynamex Inc.
P.A.M. Transportation Services Inc.
Challenger Group Gordon Trucking Inc.
Mercer Transportation 3PD Inc.
TransAm Trucking Graebel Cos.
KLLM Transport Services Cardinal Logistics Management The Suddath Cos.
Pitt Ohio Express Super Service Holdings (formerly Gainey Corp.)
Mesilla Valley Transportation Specialized Transportation Inc.
Calyx Transportation Group Roehl Transport Koch Companies Inc.
Bridge Terminal Transport Inc.
Epes Carriers Inc.
Dayton Freight Lines Inc.
Central Freight Lines Bennett International Group Duie Pyle Cos.
Transport America Cowan Systems United Road Services Navajo Express Maverick USA Milan Express Co.
Superior Bulk Logistics A&R Logistics Consolidated Fastfrate Evans Network of Cos.
Velocity Express U.S. 1 Industries Paschall Truck Lines Groendyke Transport Arpin Group Jack Cooper Transport Co Continue reading →

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Atlanta has always been a transportation hub from its founding as a railroad town in the 1840s. At the crossroads of I-75, I-85 and I-20, Atlanta is a center of interstate trucking activity as well. On our highways we see trucks from most of the largest trucking companies in the US. Fortunately, most operate pretty safely most of the time, but unfortunately some do not.

Private carriers transport their own products, as opposed to public carriers that haul for others. While the general public may not think of these as “trucking companies” but their truck fleets are regulated by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations as motor carriers hauling for other companies.

Here are the top 100 private trucking carriers, as listed by Transport Topics.

1. PepsiCo Inc.
2. Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc.
3. Sysco Corp.
4. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
5. U.S. Foodservice 6. Tyson Foods Inc.
7. Halliburton Co.
8. Dean Foods Co.
9. Dr Pepper Snapple Group 10. Baker Hughes Inc.
11. McLane Co.
12. Performance Food Group 13. Reyes Holdings 14. Schlumberger Limited 15. Agrium Inc.
16. Key Energy Services 17. Airgas Inc.
18. Oldcastle Inc.
19. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated 20. Supervalu Inc.
21. Safeway Inc.
22. Gordon Food Service 23. Hostess Brands Inc.
24. United Rentals Inc.
25. MDU Resources Group 26. International Paper Co.
27. CHS Inc.
28. Weatherford International 29. MBM Foodservice 30. Prairie Farms Inc.
31. Praxair Inc.
32. Shaw Industries Group 33. Ben E. Keith Co.
34. Delhaize America 35. Dot Foods 36. Perdue Inc.
37. Cemex Inc.
Linde North America 38. Walgreen Co.
39. Kellogg Co.
40. RSC Equipment Rental 41. Clean Harbors Inc.
42. Basic Energy Services 43. BlueLinx Holdings 44. Kraft Foods Inc.
45. Castellini Group 46. Plains All American Pipeline 47. Sunbelt Rentals Inc.
48. H-E-B Grocery Co.
49. Nabors Industries 50. Archer Daniels Midland 51. Land O’ Lakes Inc.
52. AmeriGas Partners 53. Air Products Inc.
54. Publix Super Markets 55. Advanced Drainage Systems 56. Leggett & Platt Inc.
57. Food Services of America 58. Ashley Furniture Industries 59. Pilot Flying J Inc.
60. Quanta Services Sanderson Farms Inc.
61. Mohawk Industries Inc.
62. Pepsi Bottling Ventures 63. American Air Liquide 64. United Natural Foods 65. Bunzl Distribution USA 66. Ace Hardware Corp.
67. Wakefern Food Corp.
68. Helena Chemical Co.
69. Sentinel Transportation 70. Patterson-UTI Energy 71. Cardinal Health Inc.
Foster Farms 72. Army & Air Force Exchange Service Core-Mark Holding Co.
73. Ashland Inc.
74. Sherwin-Williams Co.
75. Mobile Mini Inc.
76. Genuine Parts Co.
77. Gilster-Mary Lee Corp.
78. Silver Eagle Distributors 79. Darling International 80. Stericycle Inc.
81. ABC Supply Co. Inc.
82. Chrysler Transport 83. True Value Co.
84. Austin Powder Co.
(tie) McKee Foods Corp.
85. CVS Caremark Corp.
86. HD Supply Inc.
87. Costco Wholesale Corp.
88. Unisource Worldwide 89. Owens & Minor Inc.
90. Valley Proteins Inc.
91. Bridgestone Americas 92. IFCO Systems North America 93. Cargill Meat Logistics Solutions 94. Trinity Industries Inc.
95. Stock Building Supply 96. Bimbo Bakeries USA 97. Sealy Corp.
98. Safety-Kleen Systems 99. Builders FirstSource Inc.
McGriff Industries 100. Grocers Supply Co.
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While Georgia is a long way from the Mexican border, as a tractor trailer and big rig accident trial lawyer based in Atlanta, I have for several years followed the controversy over allowing Mexican trucking companies to operate in the United States. Concerns about safety rules and practices in Mexican trucking have simmered since 1995.

Today the U.S. and Mexico signed an agreement to allow Mexican tractor trailers and big rigs to operate in the U.S. and suspend retaliatory Mexican tariffs that added 5 to 25 percent to the cost of U.S. exports sold in Mexico.

This is the latest development in the long-running controversy to concerns about the safety standards of Mexican trucking, which long blocked North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) rules permitting Mexican trucks to cross beyond a 25- mile border zone.

The USDOT justifies today’s action by saying that Mexican trucks must comply with all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and will have electronic monitoring systems to track hours on the road, and that Mexican tractor trailer truck drivers must take drug tests that are analyzed in the U.S., hand over complete driving records and prove their English-language skills.

A previous cross-border pilot program for trucking certification program in 2009 included only 157 Mexican trucks.

Reactions from interest groups has varied widely:

• The US Chamber of Commerce supports the agreement as “a vital step toward a more efficient U.S.-Mexico border,” according to a statement from COC president Thomas Donohue. Truckers drop trailers at the border before crossing. Older rigs, often called transfers, pick them up to cross and leave them for a long-haul truck waiting on the other side.

Regarding safety concerns, the Conservative Daily News blog points out that while USDOT will pay for electronic on-board recorder (EOBR) to monitor hours of service of Mexican tractor trailers, an “EOBR cannot determine if the driver of the commercial vehicle is working other than driving, or if this driver is asleep or awake. It will not ‘automatically’ do anything as the driver still must manually enter whether a change of duty status has occurred or not.” It quotes a report issued from the Congressional Research Service in February of 2010 which stated:

“The rationale of eliminating the truck drayage segment at the border, and of NAFTA in general, is to reduce the cost of trade between the two countries, thus raising each nation’s economic welfare. However the cost to federal taxpayers of ensuring Mexican truck safety, estimated by the U.S. DOT to be over $500 million as of March 2008, appears to be disproportionate to the amount of dollars saved thus far by U.S. importers or exporters that have been able to utilize long-haul trucking authority. . . . Any accumulated savings in trucking costs enjoyed by shippers therefore should be weighed against the public cost of funding the safety inspection regime for Mexican long-haul carriers.”

• The American Association for Justice Interstate Trucking Litigation Group, of which I am a board member, urged USDOT to bring up to date liability insurance coverage requirements, which have been unchanged since 1980, prior to implementing the cross-border program. The $750,000 minimum liability coverage for interstate motor carriers adopted in 1980 would be nearly $2,000,000 today if simply adjusted for inflation. USDOT responded:

“Mexico-domiciled motor carriers must establish financial responsibility, as required by 49 CFR part 387, through an insurance carrier licensed in a State in the United States. Based on the terms provided in the required endorsement, FMCSA Form MCS-90, if there is a final judgment against the motor carrier for loss and damages associated with a crash in the United States, the insurer must pay the claim. The financial responsibility claims would involve legal proceedings in the United States and an insurer based here. There is no reason that a Mexico-domiciled motor carrier, insured by a U.S.-based company, should be required to have a greater level of insurance coverage than a U.S.-based motor carrier. Increasing the minimum levels of financial responsibility for all motor carriers is beyond the scope of this notice and would require a rulemaking. In accordance with section 350(a)(1)(B)(iv), FMCSA must verify participating motor carriers’ proof of insurance through a U.S., State-licensed insurer. As a result, participating motor carriers may not self-insure.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is bitterly critical of the action, and is challenging it in court in Washington. OOIDA asserts that Mexico has failed to institute regulations and enforcement programs that are even remotely similar to those in the United States, and there would be no relevant corresponding reciprocity for U.S. truckers. According to OOIDA, “This program will jeopardize the livelihoods of tens of thousands of U.S.-based small business truckers and professional truck drivers and undermine the standard of living for the rest of the driver community.”

Teamsters Union president Jim Hoffa also questioned legality of the program because it grants permanent operating authority to Mexican trucks after 18 months in the “pilot program” without Congressional authorization, and because DOT would use money from the Highway Trust Fund to pay for electronic on-board recorders for Mexican trucks. He said, “opening the border to dangerous trucks at a time of high unemployment and rampant drug violence is a shameful abandonment of the DOT’s duty to protect American citizens from harm and to spend American tax dollars responsibly.”

Industry groups that export to Mexico, and are impacted by retaliatory Mexican tariffs, support the decision. They include the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) , California grape growers , and Washington State apple growers.

This Georgia truck wreck lawyer may run down to the mall to buy a Rosetta Stone home study course on Spanish.
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Container freight trucks entering and exiting the Port of Savannah have presented a substantial safety hazard on surface streets near the port.

Now Gov. Nathan Deal is supporting a proposal to build a new 3.1 mile highway link between I-95 and the Port of Savannah. It would be used primarily by tractor-trailers hauling cargo to and from the Savannah port, the nation’s fourth largest container port.

While the economic development motivation is to invest in the seaport and international trade, a side benefit would be to separate all those container trucks from street traffic around Port Wentworth and Garden City. That will save lives.
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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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