Articles Posted in Trucking industry

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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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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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Trucking safety practices over the past year and a half have been impacted by adoption of the Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) program.

The CSA has three components that measure safety performance, evaluating high-risk behaviors and crafting appropriate interventions.

For commercial motor carriers, the standards significantly alter how truckers and companies operate and maintain their vehicles and deal with federal compliance. Some of the changes include:

– CSA replaces the old SafeStat system with the Safety Measurement System (SMS). Under the SMS, safety fitness determinations are issued monthly; factors such as driver fitness, unsafe driving practices, vehicle maintenance, crash history and cargo loading or securing impact this monthly evaluation.

– Companies are required to modify their “on-duty” hours and maintain comprehensive electronic travel logs.

– Trucking companies that do not pass monthly safety evaluations are subject to earlier safety interventions, including:

– Early warning letters

– Targeted roadside inspections

– Focused compliance reviews Continue reading →

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The impact of economics on trucking safety is insidious.

One thing that turns up with truckers who are witnesses in our cases is the economic squeeze on independent owner operators who try to operate safely in compliance with the rules. Of immediate concern is the fact that shippers pay fuel surcharges to brokers, but the brokers don’t pass all that fuel surcharge along to owner operators who have to pay for the fuel. That cuts the operating margin for owner operator truckers to the bone.

Then their freight prices are undercut by marginal operators who disregard maintenance, use immigrant drivers who will work for peanuts, and cheat like crazy on their driver logs. And when judges who don’t understand trucking issues rule that companies will to ignore the rules can hire trucks and drivers without any semblance of compliance with the FMSCR lease requirements, the door is opened for companies to employ fly-by-night truckers in complete defiance of all safety and financial responsibility rules.

Bad drives out good, and those who are willing to undercut rates by ignoring safety rules can drive out truckers who try to follow the safety regulations.

I hope that the Obama Administration will protect the safety of the traveling public by implementing two measures:

– Require that fuel surcharges be passed on to the operators who actually pay for the fuel.

– Clarify the rules so that when a truck lease is required under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, it will be inferred by law even the parties ignored the law and had neither a written nor oral lease.
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In truck crash litigation in Georgia, I often find that smaller trucking companies have the least focus on enforcing safety rules. For example, we are now preparing for trial a case in which the trucking company repeatedly had been fined for scores of violations of the same basic safety management rules over a three year period prior to the crash in question. That is not unusual.

Starting last year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration launched a new safety drive called Compliance, Safety, Accountability 2010 (CSA 2010). In an effort to reduce truck accident fatalities, the program is designed to identify dangerous truck drivers, companies with records of negligence and tractor-trailers and other trucks that have unsafe records.

The National Association of Small Trucking Companies sued to block public release of truck safety data online in CSA 2010, claiming that the data is not an accurate reflection of their safety performance and would put them at a competitive disadvantage. The small trucking companies also claimed that federal regulators had failed to follow proper procedures and never put a proper notice in the Federal Register, denying the companies a chance to comment. They also alleged that the agency failed to issue a proper final rule.

Last week, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected those objections, so that all the detailed trucking safety data may be released online to the public.

In 2006, there were more than 385,000 tractor trailer accidents throughout the United States. They accounted for about 4% of all vehicles involved in a traffic injury and were linked to 8% of all fatal accidents, resulting in at least 4,732 deaths. Federal safety regulators say those numbers, while declining are out of proportion with the number of trucks on the road.
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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has scheduled a public listening session on its proposal to revise hours-of-service (HOS) rules for commercial truck drivers on February 17, 2011 in Arlington, Virginia.

The agency will also webcast the session live with a forum on its website for comments and questions in order to maximize public participation.

The proposed rule change, which I discussed in this blog about six weeks ago, defines a fault line between the trucking industry, which generally claims asserts the proposed changes would excessively restrict the trucking business in already economically difficult time, and safety advocates who say the changes don’t go far enough in reducing driver fatigue.

According to Transportation Department records, driver fatigue accounts for up to 40 percent of all commercial vehicle crashes.

The hearing will be held at the Crowne Plaza Washington National Airport hotel at 1480 Crystal Drive, Arlington, Virginia 22202. The live webcast may be viewed by going to www.fmcsa.dot.gov. The session will last from 12 noon until 12 midnight EST.

If you or a loved one have been injured by negligence in operation of a large commercial truck in or from Georgia, contact us today to determine whether you have a claim.
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As a trucking safety trial attorney in Georgia, I find that one of the most valuable sources of information about accident prevention in the trucking industry is the Truck Safety Coalition. It is a partnership between The Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) Foundation, and Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T).

The Truck Safety Coalition is dedicated to reducing the number of deaths and injuries caused by truck-related crashes, providing compassionate support to truck crash survivors and families of truck crash victims, and educating the public, policy-makers and media about truck safety issues.

If you or a loved one have been injured by negligence in operation of a large commercial truck in or from Georgia, contact us today to determine whether you have a claim.
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In my Atlanta-based trucking safety litigation practice, I often see the tragic outcomes of catastrophic trucking accidents. And because of that, when I travel on the highways I am alert to the minority of truckers who ignore the safety rules. Most of the time they get by with it, without a bad outcome, but slackness about safety will inevitably lead to tragedy.

Some folks, of course, think that statistics are irrelevant to them simply because they are unique and bad things only happen to others. Many of those folks are eventually known as defendants, casualties or … statistics.

And I often wind up representing truckers who are injured by other truckers, as well as “four-wheelers” who are hit by large trucks.

The statistics about the hazards in trucking are impressive. Data collected by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) reported the following National Crash Facts for 2008:

* 4,066 large trucks and 247 buses were involved in crashes resulting in fatalities
* There were 4,229 fatalities in crashes involving large trucks and 307 fatalities in crashes involving buses
* 129,653 large trucks and 14,045 buses were involved in non-fatal crashes
* 51,680 large trucks and 7,603 buses were involved in crashes resulting in injury
* There were 71,329 injuries in crashes involving large trucks and 17,148 injuries in crashes involving buses
* 77,973 large trucks and 6,442 buses were involved in tow-away crashes
* 2,641 large trucks and 11 buses were involved in Hazmat (HM) Placard crashes
If you or a loved one have been injured by negligence in operation of a large commercial truck in or from Georgia, contact us today to determine whether you have a claim.
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