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Truck underride — an unnecessary continuing tragedy

At a trucking litigation seminar in New Orleans last spring, I had the opportunity to pinch hit for Allan J. Kam, who consults on federal motor carrier safety issues around the country.

Mr. Kam is the preeminent authority on how politicians and the trucking industry have blocked safety changes that have led to thousands of semi truck accident wrongful deaths and catastrophic serious injuries from underride accidents over the past 40 years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has identified underride truck accidents as a major safety problem and proposed safety standards as far back as 1967. These safety standards, many of which have been in effect in Europe and Asia for years, would have prevented many unnecessary injuries and wrongful deaths. But it wasn’t until 1996 that some significantly weaker safety standards were finally enacted.

The battle over truck underride guards tells the story:

* In 1967, the NHTSA proposed rulemaking for truck underride guards, aiming make truck accidents less catastrophic.

* In 1969, the NHTSA proposed requiring a rear under guard to block vehicles from sliding underneath large tractor-trailers. The proposal was opposed by the trucking industry.

* In 1970, the NHTSA tried again, but with lower standards. Again, the industry opposed any new truck safety rules.

* In 1977, new calls were made for truck underride protection, due in part, to information showing the number of cars rear-ending the back-ends of large trucks was as high as 40,000, resulting in 300 wrongful deaths and nearly 9,000 personal injuries a year.

* In 1996, a much weaker truck underride safety rule was finally implemented.

Watch the video below to see startling truck underride accidents and safety precautions.

Unfortunately, thousands of people have been killed or seriously injured because of this 40-year delay. Those tragedies will continue because the safety standards are still too lenient.

Lawyers representing families of people seriously injured and killed in these underride truck accidents face great challenges in the courtroom proving that existing truck safety standards are actually minimum standards, which are watered down and the result of political compromise.

Ken Shigley is a member of the National Advisory Board for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, has served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute, co-sponsored by the Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina Trial Lawyers Associations, and is actively involved in the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice. A member of the Million Dollar Advocates, he has successfully tried trucking accident cases to multimillion dollar verdict. He has lectured on trucking litigation topics at continuing legal education programs both at home in Georgia and in Nashville, New Orleans and St. Louis, and is scheduled to do so in Chicago this fall. A Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, he is also a Master of the Lamar Inn of Court at Emory Law School, a faculty member for ten years at the Emory University Law School Trial Techniques Program, and was recently elected Secretary of the 39,000 member State Bar of Georgia.

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