At the 2014 AAJ Convention in Baltimore, I had the privilege of being appointed Co-Chair of the Peer Review Committee for the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group Journal. The Journal is a quarterly publication intended to address cutting-edge issues affecting trucking safety and the specialized area of legal practice. Articles are authored by the chosen contributors from among the hundreds of members of this group.
People may be surprised to learn that many other country safety standards exceed U.S. standards regarding truck-trailers. One example is the area of side “underride” protection. Because a trailer lies much higher than a standard passenger vehicle, when an automobile runs into the rear of a trailer, the results were normally devestating and severe injuries or death would often occur when the car went under the trailer. Then, new industry standards were introduced that required the use of “guards” on the rear of trailers. These guards kept automobile passengers from passing under the rear of the trailer and would often save lives.
However, in the United States, the same standard was not required on the side of truck-trailers. When a truck pulls out in front of an oncoming car, the car will usually go under the higher trailer, causing greater damage than if the side had been guarded.
Many other countries have implemented mandatory safety guards on the sides of trailers. One example is shown below:
(Note that both the rear and sides are guarded by a protective railing not found on the sides of U.S. tractor-trailers)
Currently pending is proposed leglislation to increase the minimum mandatory insurance limits to be carried by interstate trucking companies. The minimum, set in 1980, for non-hazmat trucks that exceed 10,000 pounds gross weight is only $750,000.
Given the potential for catastrophic and life-altering injuries which can occur on truck vs. automobile collisions, this increase is vital. In many instances, the costs of medical care alone can exceed the current minimums and leaves nothing for non-economic human losses for elements including pain and suffering, permanent injury, mental anguish, and impairment of capacity to enjoy life.
In sum, the minimum insurance requirements have not kept pace with ever increasing costs of healthcare and inflation. These increases are needed to address this shortfall.
Trucking industry-oriented groups have claimed there is not enough data of catastrophic claims to support the mandatory increase and have voiced opposition to the increases. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has wisely chosen to study this issue and to consider changes for the protection of all motorists. Many trucking companies lack assets which leave many people and families vulnerable to having to rely solely on government assistance in the event they should suffer serious injuries. Stay tuned and let’s all hope these long-overdue and important changes are made.
Trucking companies must investigate the background of every prospective driver. The federal regulations require it. Since turnover of truck drivers can be high and many drivers jump from job to job, the company safety director may need to contact many different past employers. The reason for this is simple: a truck company should not hire a driver who has a poor driving history or had problems in his or her past jobs.
When a truck company does not fully investigate both the driving history and the full employment history of the driver, dangerous drivers can cause catastrophic damage on our highways and interstates. Here are some real life examples of cases I have handled where people were injured:
1. a truck company hired a driver with two felony drug convictions, multiple speeding violations, multiple over-hours violations and had driven for five different companies over the previous three years. Not surprisingly, this driver had three “accidents” on his current job. At the last accident, he fled the scene and the police discovered methampethamine in his truck cab with pipes and burners along with an unathorized female escort.
2. a large, mullti-national truck company hired a driver who could not read english and could not pass even the most basic written safety test. The company helped the driver cheat on the test and sent her out on long trips. She and her husband were involved in a fatal “accident” on a U.S. interstate in inclement weather. Both drivers had not been properly trained in inclement weather driving.
3. a large truck company hired a driver with a known medical condition that may have contributed to his failing to keep a proper lookout and colliding into the rear of a vehicle stopped on the interstate.
Truck companis must hire only qualified, professional drivers. When these drivers are involved in accidents, the primary fault falls with the truck company that allowed the bad drivers on the road in the first place.
Hours-of-Service (HOS) Regulations – Comparison
Comparision to Prior Rule. [Download PDF Version]