Articles Posted in Trucking industry

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As a trucking accident trial attorney in Atlanta, I often see that the trucking companies involved in bad crashes have had terrible safety evaluations for a long time.

Twice in the past few weeks I found in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration safety audits that the companies were cited and fined scores of times for the same rule violations that were involved in the crashes we are addressing.

Now folks in the insurance industry are expressing concern that increased safety monitoring under the FMCSA’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis initiative will result in more warnings and citations about deficient safety practices, which we will in turn use to show the willfulness of unsafe practices.

In some instances, jurors may find that persistence in bad conduct sufficient to award punitive damages or attorney fees in addition to punitive damages. That may be a good thing for promoting safety on the highways, as trucking companies with unsatisfactory safety ratings will face pressure from their insurance companies. Those truckers who don’t care much about safety may care about being able to keep the insurance that is required to operate, and about their paying higher insurance premiums. Thus, the economic impact will give a competitive advantage to safer companies and a competitive disadvantage to unsafe companies.

And trucking trial lawyers like me who know where to obtain those records and how to use them will contribute to a “virtuous cycle” whereby pursuit of our clients’ interests also serves to promote safety for everyone on the highways.
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It’s interesting how handling a truck wreck case in Georgia can draw one into the culture, politics and economics of Eastern Europe. But a case in which a Croatian trucker hit an Atlanta motorist on I-285 did just that.

This week’s Time magazine includes an article for which I was interviewed, Trucking in the U.S.A.: Where the Accent is Russian. The article focuses on the language, cultural and legal challenges created by an influx of Russian truck drivers into the US.

The reporter had read my blog post about taking a deposition in Kansas City of that Croatian truck driver — through an interpreter — who was taught to drive a tractor trailer by “some Russian guy in North Carolina. He said his study of the CDL manual and rules was accomplished by having his 10-year-old daughter translate it for him.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, at 49 CFR 391.11, requires that in order to get a Commercial Driver’s License, an applicant must be able to “read and speak the English language sufficiently to converse with the general public, to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language, to respond to official inquiries, and to make entries on reports and records.”
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As a trucking safety trial attorney in Atlanta, I try to keep an eye peeled for developments in Washington that could affect trucking safety on America’s highways. One proposal in Congress, backed by 150 large companies, would allow them to “super size” tractor trailers in interstate commerce from a maximum weight of 80,000 pounds to 96,000 pounds.

In addition, those companies and a group of 19 Western governors are lobbying Congress to allow for more “doubles” and “triples” – multiple trailers hitched together than can span up to 120 feet – on Western highways.

Supporters of the proposals say shippers could load trucks more fully, reducing trucks used by 6%, saving 6.6 million gallons of fuel and eliminating 73,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

However, “super size” trucks would affect safety of other motorists by increasing the blind areas around tractor trailers as well as making them harder to stop. While trucks may have increased braking capacity, passenger cars and pickup trucks will not have any additional structural support added to withstand the impact from these monster trucks. Even if passenger cars were made to withstand these forces, it would be impossible to retrofit millions of cars currently on the road.

In addition to consumer safety organizations that uniformly think this is a bad idea, OIDA (Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association) has stated that the stability of a tractor trailer is “substantially reduced on bigger and heavier trucks.” Rollovers are already the leading cause of truck driver deaths, this proposal would make one of the most deadly professions worse.

A truck inspector quoted in the Wall Street Journal called the idea “insane.” He said he could actually feel the bridges bounce with trucks, and the heavier the trucks the more the bridge bounced. Do we really need the extra strain on the already crumbling bridges and roadways of America?

What do you think? How would this proposal to “super size” tractor trailers affect safety on the roads for the rest of us?
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As a trucking accident trial attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia, I try to keep up with trucking safety issues at the national level. The latest development was a statement last week by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration director Ann Ferro at a U.S. Senate subcommittee. Some of the high points include:

Core priorities of FMCSA are to:
1. Raise the safety bar to enter the industry;
2. Require operators to maintain high safety standards to remain 3. Remove high-risk operators from our roads and highways.

CSA 2010 is to be implemented by end of 2010.
This Comprehensive Safety Analysis program is intended to measure seven key behaviors that are linked to trucking crash risk:
1.Unsafe Driving 2. Fatigued Driving 3. Driver Fitness which includes licensing and medical compliance standards 4. Crash History 5. Vehicle Maintenance 6. Improper Loading and Cargo 7. Controlled Substances – Drugs and Alcohol
New Entrant Safety Assurance Program
focuses on 16 safety regulations for which a violation by a new entrant carrier would result in an automatic failure of the safety audit. Any new entrant that fails the safety audit must submit a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) in order to continue to operate in interstate commerce. FMCSA also closely monitors the new entrant during the initial 18-month period of operation and, if certain violations are discovered during a roadside inspection, the new entrant will be subject to an expedited action to correct the identified safety deficiencies.

National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners rules later this year will establish minimum training and testing requirements for all healthcare professionals that issue medical certificates for interstate truck and bus drivers. (I’ve seen drivers who were cleared to return to service in a 10 minute checkup by a chiropractor after open heart surgery.)

Hours of Service. FMCSA is taking another look at the controversial hours of service rule.

Electronic On-Board Recorders will be required of an additional 5,700 motor carriers as a remedial measure. (The days of “comic book” driver logs may be numbered, but making the EOBR systems tamper-proof will be the next challenge.)

Distracted Driving. FMCSA has banned text messaging by drivers while operating a commercial motor vehicle. (It’s a step in the right direction.)

Drug & Alcohol Database. FMCSA is working on a database to keep up with drivers who fail drug and alcohol tests.

There’s more. I commend the entire statement to the interested reader.
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When I saw that three tractor trailers loaded with copper cable had been stolen from Southwire in Carrollton, Georgia, it reminded me of my days as a young prosecutor out in the country. See Steve Wilson’s report in the Times-Georgian for details.

As a young Assistant District Attorney right out of law school, I prosecuted cases of both an 18-wheeler theft and theft of coils of copper cable from a Georgia Power substation construction site, right up the road from Carrollton in Haralson County. The copper theft case was the only time I’ve seen a packed courtroom applaud a jury verdict.

Over the years, whenever copper prices go up, copper thieves steal wire from power stations and transformers for resale on the black market. Sending semi trucks to pick up loads of copper cable directly from the manufacturer, under a fraudulent truck brokerage contract (if that is in fact what happened), is brazenly efficient.
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Most of my work as an Atlanta attorney involves serious injuries and deaths due to truck wrecks around Georgia and the Southeast — tractor trailers, big rigs, dump trucks, concrete mixer trucks, delivery trucks, mobile cranes, etc.

But my first truck-related trial, many years ago, was when I was an Assistant District Attorney in a rural Georgia circuit. It involved the theft of a tractor trailer and its cargo, and was related to thefts of fuel from a pipeline that passed through a small town. Most of the city fathers were implicated in the overall plot which was prosecuted in federal court. However, the feds bumped the tractor trailer hijacking back down to our state prosecution team.

This week there is a news story that reminds me of that long-ago prosecution. In Missouri, law enforcement officers have broken up a tractor trailer theft ring and recovered six semi-tractors and eight semi-trailers stolen in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Maryland. Some young Assistant DA is going to have fun with that case.
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As a trucking safety trial attorney in Georgia, I spend a lot of time with truck drivers, either representing them when they get badly hurt, suing them when they badly hurt someone else, or interviewing them as witnesses. Based on personal experience, I’ve thought about posting a review of truck stop food. I know that usually when they break the safety rules, it is because the company pressured them to do so.

This morning I received a comment on this blog from a truck driver who tells it like it is. Rather than leaving it buried in “comments,” I’m posting it on its own. For obvious reasons, I must protect this truck driver’s identity.

Where I work essentially…if you don’t make the logs appear legal and continue running past your 70 hour limit and are caught by the DOT,shut down for 10 hrs and written up for a ‘Violation'(as opposed to falsifying your logs to ‘look legal’ and keep rolling) you will be suspended for 2 weeks by the ‘safety dept’ and your truck will most likely be given to a new driver while your suspended,on the other hand,if you are late delivering,you will be written up and possibly terminated. How many hours you have to operate is irrelevant. Freight comes first. Technically isn’t “coercion” like this against the law ?

That has the ring of truth as the voice from an honest truck driver.
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I’m a trucking safety lawyer in Atlanta, not a futurist or a psychic. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and post my top five predictions for motor carrier safety in 2010.

1. Accident and fatality rates in interstate commercial trucking will continue to decline.

2. In addition to a ban on text messaging by truck drivers while in motion, FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) will require an interlock between truck cab communication systems and truck transmission, so that drivers must stop the truck before typing a response.

3. FMCSA will require Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBR) for all new commercial road tractors, and retrofitting of existing units within 3 to 5 years.

4. The FMCSA will require seat belts and safety glass in new motor coaches, and may require retrofitting of existing motor coaches with seat belts within 3 to 5 years.

5. FMCSA’s new Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA 2010) program will make truck drivers more conscious of the need to maintain their own health in order to maintain a Commercial Driver’s License, thereby gradually increasing demand for truck stop chains to begin offering healthy food and exercise facilities.
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The owner of a trucking firm has pleaded guilty to criminal charges arising from the maintenance of a defective and almost brakeless tractor-trailer rig that caused a fatal six car crash in Pennsylvania last January. He is the third man to face criminal sentences due to that wreck. They are:

* Owner of tractor portion of rig – Victor M. Kalinitchii, 41, Philadelphia, homicide by motor vehicle, faces 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison.

* Driver – Valerijs N. Belovs, 56, from Northeast Philadelphia, homicide by vehicle, faces 8 1/2 to 17 years in prison.

* Maintenance – Joseph W. Jadczak Jr., 61, owner of Pratts Auto Service in Philadelphia, homicide by motor vehicle, faces 3 1/2 to seven years in prison.

If civil remedies aren’t enough to get the attention of trucking company owners who put drivers on the road in unsafe vehicles, or require drivers to work when too fatigued to be safe, then perhaps criminal prosecutions can get their attention.

However, Georgia law on homicide by vehicle is written in terms that would be unlikely to reach beyond the driver of the vehicle. See OCGA § 40-6-393 and cross references. Do any of my fellow lawyers out there see an interpretation of those code section that would support criminal prosecution in Georgia of a truck owner or repair facility that put a defective truck on the road?
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Several times I have written about the difficult lifestyle of truck drivers, and how that adversely affects their health and the safety of others on the roads. It is virtually impossible to find healthy food or a place to exercise at truck stops across America. So truckers are somewhat more prone than other middle aged guys, become obese and develop cardiovascular illnesses, diabetes, sleep apnea, etc. (Not that I’m such a paragon of fitness either, but at least it’s easy for me to eat healthy, jog around the neighborhood and get to the gym in my office building if I make the time.)

But driving with my son from Los Angeles to Atlanta a few days ago, I noted something even worse affecting truckers’ lifestyle. Through Arizona and New Mexico we saw several truck stops with adjoining casinos. I didn’t stop to see if they have healthy food or exercise facilities, but they surely have places for truckers to drink and gamble away their earnings.

There are no casinos in Georgia, and certainly no truck stop casinos. For a number of reasons, primarily my view of morality, I would be happy to keep it that way.
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