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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 or truck driving schools, see Truckers Justice Center. 

One day in Kansas City, I took the deposition testimony through an interpreter of a Bosnian immigrant truck driver. He was driving with a Florida Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) when he crashed an 18-wheeler into my client on a Georgia interstate highway.

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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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One of the leading causes of tragic tractor trailer crashes is the influence of drugs – even perfectly legal prescription or over-the-counter medications — on drivers’ motor skills, balance, coordination, perception, attention, reaction time, and judgment. Even small quantities of some legal drugs can have a crucial impact on driving ability.

In 2009, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported results of a study finding that 18% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter drug. Perhaps more significantly, drugs 7 times as likely as alcohol to be present in weekend nighttime drivers — 16% testing positive for drugs compared with only 2% above the legal limit for alcohol. In our practice, we have also seen the catastrophic impact of drivers who combined some alcohol with a mix of various legal and illegal mind-altering drugs.

When you combine the witch’s brew of drugs and alcohol with the huge kinetic force of an 80,000 pound tractor trailer, the danger is exponentially greater than when a similarly intoxicated person is driving a small passenger car.

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Will some truck drivers alter their routes and schedules to avoid safety inspections during a 72-hour period of enhanced truck inspections across North America next week? For years, I have heard from truck drivers stories of how they would take alternate routes to avoid speed limit enforcement and safety inspections. Once, when my daughter was attending a college in a neighboring state, a truck driver told me that she should avoid a certain non-Interstate route because all the truckers who wanted to evade the law took that route.

28th Annual International Roadcheck Begins June 2, 2015
The 28th Annual International Roadcheck will take place between June 2 and June 5, 2015. The Roadcheck is conducted by The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance together with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, Transport Canada, and the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation in Mexico.
Within the 72-hour period, there will be over 10,000 certified commercial truck and bus inspectors on the roads of North America. Some believe that because of heightened scrutiny, many carriers will choose not to operate during the three day period. The goal of the campaign is to average 17 inspections per minute over a 72-hour period.

North American Standard Level I Inspection
According to The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the North American Standard Level I Inspection will be conducted, which is the most thorough roadside inspection. “It is a 37-step procedure that includes a thorough examination of both the driver and vehicle. Drivers will be asked to provide items such as their license, endorsements, medical card and hours-of-service documentation, and will be checked for seat belt usage and the use of alcohol and/or drugs. The vehicle inspection includes checking items such as the braking system, coupling devices, exhaust system, frame, fuel system, lights, safe loading, steering mechanism, drive line, suspension, tires, van and open-top trailer bodies, wheels and rims, windshield wipers, and emergency exits on buses.”

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An overturning concrete mixer truck injured former Atlanta Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young on Monday afternoon, May 11th, at the corner of Hemphill Avenue and 14th Street, in the trendy West Midtown area just north of the Georgia Tech campus. Young, the visionary 83-year-old icon of civil rights and Atlanta politics, was taken to a hospital as a precaution.

News photos of the scene make it clear to me what probably happened. In loaded cement mixer trucks the center of gravity is high and constantly shifting. Standard truck driver training materials in the ready-mix concrete industry detail the handling characteristics. Concrete industry training materials describe how a loaded cement mixer truck will tip up on two wheels when making a ninety degree turn on level pavement at 12 miles per hour, and will roll over at 16 miles per hour.

The news photos show a typical pattern of a concrete mixer truck overturning in a right turn at an intersection.

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The families of the Georgia Southern nursing students killed or injured this week when a tractor trailer ran over them on I-16 bear a huge burden of pain and grief. As a parent, I cannot imagine anything worse than the sudden death of a child who has had you wrapped around her finger from the first time you held her in your arms.

The families need time, space, privacy and gracious consideration from others to have space to grieve, each in their own way.

After any such tragedy waves of welcome and unwelcome people descend upon the survivors.

First may come the well-meaning relatives, friends, neighbors and pastors. I can imagine that each family’s home has been deluged with casseroles and that parents’ Sunday School classes have signed up to provide meals for the next month. That loving embrace can help one keep going through the early days.

But then, after the funeral, folks go back to their everyday lives, leaving parents and siblings to sit in the departed child’s bedroom and weep for hours in the dark. Each must process the stages of grief.

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Georgians are shocked and saddened today by a truck crash on I-16 in Bryan County that snuffed out the promising young lives of five nursing students at Georgia Southern University.

The grief is personal for a 2013 Georgia Southern graduate in our office who was a close friend of two of the five girls who were killed. For me as the father of two young adults, I shudder to comprehend their parents’ loss. One friend on the coast described the whole event as “surreal.”

The crash happened about 5:45 AM in predawn darkness on Wednesday. The five nursing students were in a sedan and SUV headed east on I-16, going to their last day of clinical training for the semester at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital in Savannah. Traffic had slowed due to another accident ahead.

A tractor trailer failed to stop and crashed into the stopped traffic, causing a seven vehicle pileup. The Georgia Southern students were in an SUV and a passenger car, both of which were impacted. The passenger car burst into flames.

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The Georgia House of Representatives last week passed a bill which, if passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Deal, would incrementally strengthen the leverage of automobile insurance policyholders who make claims under their “UM” (uninsured / underinsured motorist coverages.

The sponsors of this legislation, House Bill 303, are Rep. Dusty Hightower (from my old hometown of Douglasville), Rep. Alex Atwood (of St. Simons Island, but who I knew at Douglas County High School eons ago), and my other friends, Rep. Ronnie Mabra of Fayetteville, Rep. Tom Weldon of Ringgold, Rep. Trey Kelley of Cedartown (where I tried my first case as a young prosecutor before he was born) and Rep. Stacey Evans of Smyrna. Hats off to them for their efforts.

UM coverage protects a policyholder who is injured due to the negligence of a person who has no liability insurance, or less liability insurance than the injured person has in UM coverage. Unless rejected in writing, new auto insurance policies in Georgia include UM coverage equal to the amount of liability coverage.

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For years, whenever I have visited Savannah, I have loved to sit at the riverfront and watch with fascination the huge ships stream past, with freight containers stacked high like a child’s colorful building blocks, filled with goods shipped to and from distant shores.

On Georgia highways – especially I-16, I-95, I-75 and I-85 – we see a steady stream of those freight containers mounted on tractor trailers from the ports of Savannah and Jacksonville. Just east of downtown Atlanta there is a vast intermodal freight yard, transferring freight containers between trains and trucks.

With the upcoming expansion of the Port of Savannah, intermodal truck traffic across Georgia will greatly increase. Usually the drivers are careful and safe, but when bad things happen the results can be catastrophic.

Most people who see intermodal freight on the highways don’t know what they are seeing. But if you see a tractor trailer with markings from China or Europe, it is an intermodal freight container.

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Several times recently, I have written about the projected inflation adjustment to minimum liability insurance coverages for interstate commercial vehicles. The process continues.

A few days ago, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a 14-page Report to Congress, concluding the following:

1. Current limits are inadequate in covering catastrophic crashes.

2. Simply adjusting existing limits to adjust for healthcare inflation would require raising limits:

a. From the current $750,000 to $3,188,250 for general tractor-trailers, rather than the $4.2 million that was discussed for inflation adjustment since the $750,000 minimum was first set in 1980.

b. From the current $1 million to $4,251,000 for low-hazard hazmat tractor-trailers, e.g., fuel trucks, rather than $4.4 million that was discussed.

c. From the current $5 million to $21,255,000 for high-hazard hazmat tractor-trailers;

d. From the current $1.5 million to $6,376,500 for small buses; and
e. From the current $5 million to $21,255,000 for large buses.

3. “The Agency has formed a rulemaking team to further evaluate the appropriate level of financial responsibility for the motor carrier industry and has placed this rulemaking among the Agency’s high priority rules.”

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