Articles Posted in Trucking technology

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P9

Photo our expert used to identify negligent maintenance issues even though trucking company had sold their dump truck out of state.

Tom was having a good day. Between sales calls, he stopped his pickup truck at a red light at the end of bridge waiting to turn left onto a freeway ramp. He had been sitting there about thirty seconds when he heard a loud screeching sound. A dump truck fully loaded with gravel crashed into his rear, crushing the bed of his pickup and knocking the top of his toolbox through his rear window. By the time Tom hired us, the dump truck company had sold the truck and “lost” all the maintenance records. However, we had an expert who could tell from photos of the property damage that there were rusty cracks in mechanical components that may have contributed to the crash. While driver distraction and speed were bigger parts of the case, proof of poor maintenance helped establish that the company had been sloppy about safety for a long time.

Although many of the commercial truck crash cases we handle are caused by some combination of speed, fatigue or distraction, some also involve mechanical failure. That may be discovered by a motor carrier enforcement inspection after a crash, in an expert inspection we arrange if we are hired quickly enough, or it may be disclosed later in expert examination of photos of property damage.

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I-16 truck crash May 19 2015

Truck crash on I-16 at I-95 on 5/19/2015 killed 5. Truck driver admitted falling asleep, is charged with 5 counts of vehicular homicide.

In the spring of 2015, there were two separate five-fatality truck crashes on I-16 in Georgia. The first one got most of the publicity because the victims were all beautiful young nursing students, but both were equally lethal and egregious. In both cases, there were at least indications that a truck driver fell asleep before running over a line of stopped traffic.

On April 22, 2015, in Bryan County, John Wayne Johnson, a truck driver from Louisiana driving for Total Trucking, a subsidiary of US Express, ran over vehicles stopped traffic. He killed five Georgia Southern University nursing students and injured two others. It appears he went to sleep as there was clear visibility on a long, straight stretch of road before he ran over the stopped vehicles. Johnson admitted he had been texting and exchanging sexually provocative message with a woman while driving but denied he was on the phone at the time of the crash.

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Every year we see many reports of tractor trailers overturning in metro Atlanta and across Georgia. Usually it is just another half-comical story of traffic tie-ups because some truck rolled over in a freeway interchange, spilling a load of watermelons, beer, Christmas packages, or whatever.

But too often tractor trailer rollovers result in serious injury or death to the truck driver and sometimes others. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has worked for years to reduce the incidence of truck rollovers, which are a major safety concern for both truck drivers and other motorists on the highway.

The Large Truck Crash Causation Study documented over a decade ago that tractor-trailers are particularly vulnerable because of the trailer’s high center of gravity and frequently unstable loads. In that study, the great majority were driver errors, including excessive speed in curves, often misjudging sharpness, drifting off road, often counter-steering abruptly, not adjusting to the trailers high center of gravity, being impaired physically (e.g. fatigue, drowsiness) or emotionally (reckless, angry). Vehicle-related problems include top heavy and badly distributed or unsecured loads, poorly maintained brakes or suspension and under-inflated tires, many of which were the driver’s responsibility to check. Improved driver training, especially for tanker truck and concrete mixer truck drivers, is a big part of rollover prevention.

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Truck driver fatigue is one of the most common cause of catastrophic trucking crashes that I see in my law practice.

Many times we have combed through the paper logs maintained by truck drivers, sometimes referred to as “comic books,” and meticulously compared them to other records generated in the course of a cross-country trip. Time and again we have found that the trucker, pushed by employers and shippers to make impossible delivery schedules, had hardly slept for days before crashing into our clients. One truck driver who had run over a family vehicle, confronted by dissection of the evidence, admitted that he had been driving 20 of the previous 24 hours then broke down and cried over the child he had killed.

A solution that has been promoted for years is to require Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBR) that are at least more difficult to falsify than handwritten paper logs. Major trucking companies and the American Trucking Associations support the EOBR requirement, which they say will help them enforce anti-fatigue rules. But independent truckers, represented by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, say the mandate would impose unfair costs on drivers who own their own rigs.

Last week in Congress, the House sent conflicting messages to the trucking industry. On Friday, the House adopted both a highway bill conference report that mandates electronic data recorders in trucks and an amendment to a spending bill that would bar the Transportation Department from spending money to implement the requirement.

The conference report on the surface transportation reauthorization (HR 4348), adopted in both chambers on Friday, included Senate language requiring the devices. The agreement was adopted in the House by a vote of 373-52.

After opponents in the House failed to get the provision stripped from the agreement, Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., offered an amendment to the fiscal 2013 Transportation-HUD spending bill (HR 5972) that would disallow any Transportation Department expenditures supporting the recorder mandate. The amendment – which would block any expenditures on rules to require global position tracking, event-data recorders or electronic on-board recording devices on passenger vehicles or commercial trucks – was adopted by voice vote. The appropriations bill passed, 261-163.

American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves complained that “opponents of honest, fair and efficient enforcement of important safety rules have used this back door to thwart the will of Congress.” Graves said he expected that the conference report language “will be the final word on the use of electronic logs and that [the Transportation Department] will quickly move to require this important safety technology on all trucks.”

Having watched the ongoing struggle about trucking hours of service rules and their enforcement over the years, I make no bold predictions about any definitive action.

Meanwhile, efforts to update the trucking insurance requirements, which have not been adjusted for inflation in over 30 years, remain stalled.
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For years we have explored cell phone distraction as a factor in the cause of motor vehicle accidents, including commercial trucking accidents. Discovery of cell phone records has become routine in litigation. We have read all the studies, deposed the experts and argued about the legal ramifications. I won’t rehash all that here.

Now the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued a rule barring use of hand held cell phones by commercial truck drivers in interstate commerce. The agency stated the rationale for the rule in part as follows:

Using a hand-held mobile telephone may reduce a driver’s situational awareness, decision making, or performance; and it may result in a crash, near-crash, unintended lane departure by the driver, or other unsafe driving action. Indeed, research indicates that reaching for and dialing hand-held mobile telephones are sources of driver distraction that pose a specific safety risk.

The agency summarizes much of the research on cell phone distraction in explaining its conclusion that “it is the action of taking one’s eyes off the forward roadway to reach for and dial a hand-held mobile telephone … that has the greatest risk.”
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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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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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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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Federal trucking safety rules continue to expand on commercial truck drivers’ texting or calling while they drive As a trial attorney handling tractor trailer and big rig crash cases throughout Georgia, I see how important this can be in trucking accident cases.

The latest Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published April 29 by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, part of DOT, would prohibit use of a handheld cell phone by drivers moving a quantity of hazardous materials that must be placarded under 49 CFR Part 172 or any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR Part 73 in intrastate commerce.

This would expand upon rules already proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (also part of DOT). FMCSA barred texting by commercial motor vehicle drivers in a September 2010 final rule. It proposed to restrict the use of hand-held mobile phones in a Dec. 21, 2010,

PHMSA estimates that there are approximately 1,490 intrastate motor carriers that could be affected by this rulemaking.
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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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