Log trucks crashes are distressingly common tragedies across rural Georgia, often causing death or terrible injuries.
Most log trucks operating in the middle of Georgia operate exclusively intrastate, inside the state of Georgia, and do not cross state lines. They are governed by the Georgia Forest Product Trucking Rules, which exempt applicability of numerous provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Log trucks operating near state lines may cross into neighboring states, subjecting them to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
Length of loads.
Log trucks in rural Georgia frequently operate in darkness with tree length loads extending 20 feet beyond the rear of the trailer. Often the logs sag down in the rear, obscuring trailer tail lights. This presents severe hazard both when drivers approach from the rear under circumstances in which the end of the load is not clearly visible.
Here a photo from a crash in which an eyewitness confirmed that the rear of the load was sagging and the amber light on the end of the load of logs had been flickering on and off for 10 miles before the log truck turned only to major highway. Miraculously, the driver of the pickup truck survived.
Extended log loads also create a hazard when a log truck turns and the end of the load swings out into another lane.
Conspicuity of projecting loads.
“Conspicuity” is a fancy word for visible. It means “easily seen or noticed; readily visible or observable.” When loads extend more than four feet from the end of the trailer, they are required to have a strobe or LED light flashing 60 times per minute and plainly visible from 500 feet. See O.C.G.A § 40-8-23 and Georgia Forest Products Trucking Rules, Section 4-393.11PL. Unfortunately, many local law enforcement officers and even state troopers have too little training to recognize violations and their significance. They often ignore violations and blame dead victims.
For daytime conspicuity, the end of the load must also be marked with a flag of bright red or orange fluorescent color and shall be not less than 18 inches square. Of course, a flag alone is no help in the ark.
In addition, the Georgia Forests Products Trucking Rules include specifications and diagrams for placement of reflectors and reflecting tape. In the real world, those rules are rarely enforced. Here is a comparison between the requirements and reality in a log trailer involved in a fatal crash when it made a U-turn across traffic lanes in predawn darkness,
With the overloaded log truck violating the rules on lights and reflectors, here is an illustration of what was visible to an oncoming driver about a second before impact with logs extending in the dark across his lane of travel.
Insurance. Intrastate commercial trucks operating only in Georgia, including log trucks, are only required to carry $100,000 liability insurance coverage, which is horribly inadequate in any of the catastrophic crashes they are likely to cause. Many, however, are contractually bound by paper companies to which they haul logs to carry $1,000,000 liability insurance.
Logging trucks near state lines may cross to paper mills in neighboring states. When operating in interstate commerce, they are subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Interstate commercial motor vehicles are required to have at least $750,000 liability insurance coverage, but most have $1,000,000 coverage, sometimes more. When dump trucks haul certain agricultural commodities within 150 miles from the source, they are exempt from certain regulations.
Log truck drivers generally are paid less than over the road truckers in interstate commerce. We understand that most log truck owners and drivers are decent people. A high school classmate spent most of his life as a pulpwood hauler. Some good, experienced truck drivers choose to make less money in order to be home every night. However, our observation in log truck crash cases has been that they are generally less experienced, less trained and less sophisticated. We had one case in which a log truck driver who had been fired from an over-the-road truck driving job could only find work driving a log truck. Within two months of starting, he made a U-turn in predawn darkness, leaving his unilluminated log of logs extended
Log truck drivers are required to have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). He was intelligent and a good guy. However, the Georgia Forest Products Trucking Rules exempt a lot of driver qualification rules governing interstate truckers. They may drive a log truck at 18 rather than 21, need not be even minimally literate, are not required to pass road tests, or be subject to rules on background screening, safe driving hours, etc.,
Maintenance of log trucks is often substandard. The Georgia Forest Product Trucking Rules exempt intrastate log trucks from the daily safety inspection of trucks and trailers required under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Because log trucks often operate in rough areas at in forests, they take a beating. Without a requirement of daily pre-trip and post-trip inspections, it is common to see a log truck that has taken a beating. Tires, brakes and suspension may be in bad shape, and required lamps and reflectors are often missing or caked with mud.
If you or a loved one are badly harmed in a catastrophic accident involving a log truck in Georgia, it is important to act immediately to preserve crucial evidence.
Ken Shigley is a 2019 recipient of the “Tradition of Excellence” Award from the State Bar of Georgia General Practice & Trial Section.
Mr. Shigley is the first Georgia lawyer to earn three national board certifications in his practice area from the National Board of Trial Advocacy – in Civil Trial Law, Civil Practice Law and Truck Accident Law. He is a board member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, and former chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section, which includes the Trucking Litigation Group.
He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice, now in its tenth annual edition with Thomson Reuters West. His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brain, neck, back, spinal cord, amputation and burn injuries.
In 2011-12, Mr. Shigley was president of the State Bar of Georgia, which includes all the lawyers and judges in Georgia. He also is a former chair of the Institute for Legal Education in Georgia (board member 2008-2019, chair 2012-13), State Bar of Georgia Tort & Insurance Practice Section (1994-95), and the Georgia Insurance Law Institute (1994).
A former prosecutor and former insurance defense lawyer, Mr. Shigley is a graduate of Furman University and Emory University Law School. He is a widower, father of two adult children, and an elder in his church.