Speed Limiter Delay Raises Danger on Highways

The idea of installing speed-limiting devices on 18-wheelers and other heavy trucks has been discussed for many years, but the official proposal to make it happen has stagnated as a result of foot-dragging by government regulators. Fortunately, it appears we are much closer to seeing this life-saving technology put to use on our highways in the near future following the Senate Appropriations Committee’s recent passage of a Department of Transportation funding bill for 2017.

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Speed limiters also called “governors” can be installed in any vehicle to prevent a driver from going faster than a prescribed speed. According to a 2014 study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and as we have seen time and again, speed is one of the top three factors for motor vehicle crashes, along with fatigue and drinking alcohol. While many truckers have resisted the move to restrict their ability to go as fast as their tractor-trailers are capable, the great majority of safety experts agree that limiting trucks’ speed will save lives and prevent countless highway injuries.

The continuing problem with mandating speed limiters is getting a rule drafted and passed that the DOT can implement and enforce. The DOT repeatedly has promised it will submit a proposed rule for at least the past two years, but no proposal has emerged. Some blame the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which has failed to approve a similar rule submitted by the DOT in 2014. But with the passage of the 2017 funding bill, the Senate has set a deadline for the new rule to be submitted, although everyone believes the deadline will be pushed back as the bill makes it way to the House of Representatives. Regardless, we are much closer today than we have been in recent years.

If the White House and DOT can get their act together and the House of Representatives does not slow down the process, then we could see speed limiters on semis and other big rigs as soon as 2018. While two years is a long time to wait for something that nearly everyone agrees will improve highway safety significantly, the forthcoming benefits of speed limiters hopefully will cause us all to ask, “What took so long?

International Roadcheck 2016 Focus of CBS 11 Report

The highway dangers that follow the International Roadcheck inspection period every year are now the focus of a new report from KTVT-CBS 11 in Dallas/Fort Worth. I spoke with reporter Joel Thomas about the many truck drivers who decide to take “Roadcheck vacations” every year in order to avoid critical safety inspections conducted by law enforcement agencies in Texas and throughout North America.

You can see the full report here.

As the story notes, trucking companies and truck drivers are given months of notice every year before the Roadcheck inspections begin, which causes many reputable companies and drivers to make sure they are in full compliance with state and federal laws. However, many unscrupulous carriers and big rig pilots decide to stay in the shadows during Roadcheck because they have shoddy trucks or licensing problems. That is why I try to spread the word as far as possible about Roadcheck every year in order to warn everyday motorists who may not be aware that the days after the inspections represent the most dangerous times of the year to be on the highway.

My goal is that stories such as this CBS 11 report and those published recently by The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram (see below) will help prevent at least one truck accident and hopefully many others. Remember to be safe on the highways this weekend!

Dallas Morning News Reports on Roadcheck Dangers

The Dallas Morning News is helping spread the word about the dangers that follow the annual International Roadcheck inspection period with a story published today that includes an interview I did earlier.

As noted in the story, nearly 22 percent of the tractor-trailers, big rigs and semis that were inspected in Texas during last year’s Roadcheck were ordered off the road for safety violations and more than 200 drivers were ticketed for failing to maintain proper time records, working longer than allowed by law, or other violations.

The reporter also spoke with a Fort Worth police officer who acknowledged that the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, which organizes Roadcheck, knows that many truck drivers avoid inspections by taking what the trucking industry calls “Roadcheck vacations.” Here’s hoping that the early warning given to trucking companies will stop soon so we can get a better idea of how many trucks and drivers truly shouldn’t be on our highways.

International Roadcheck Commentary Published by Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The annual effort to warn drivers about International Roadcheck just got a big boost with the publication of a commentary that I recently put together for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which you can see here: http://www.star-telegram.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/other-voices/article80455812.html.

This piece was written in hopes that the Star-Telegram’s editors would help spread the word about one of the most important times of the year for highway safety and protecting against crashes with tractor-trailers, semis and other heavy trucks. I am very thankful they decided to do so. If knowing about Roadcheck can help prevent one accident, then it is worth every bit of time and effort our office devotes to this project every year.

With the 2016 Roadcheck less than a week away, the trucking industry is working at a fever pitch to notify drivers that they may well face safety inspections conducted by law enforcement from June 7 through June 9. Of course, many drivers and their trucks will avoid those inspections by taking so-called “Roacheck Vacations.”

Please tell your friends about Roadcheck or ask them to read the commentary in the Star-Telegram. The more people who know, the better we all will be prepared.

Roadcheck 2016 Kicks Off June 7

One of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the road traveling alongside 18-wheelers, buses and other big rigs is drawing near, although a majority of drivers will never realize the risks because they were never warned.

As we noted here last year, the annual International Roadcheck program is set to take place June 7-9 across the U.S. and all of North America as part of a joint effort organized by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). During Roadcheck, more than 10,000 CVSA-certified inspectors from the local, state and federal level participate in the 72-hour program that includes roadside inspections of more than 70,000 semis and other heavy trucks.

As happens every year, the trucking industry already is telling companies and drivers about the three-day window, which will allow many of them to limit their hours or stay off the road entirely in order to avoid inspections. Once Roadcheck is over, expect to see many more tractor-trailers on the highway, including those whose drivers may be looking to make up for lost time that was spent waiting on the mandatory inspections to conclude.

Of the nearly 70,000 individual Roadcheck inspections conducted last year, more than 1,600 drivers were ticketed for out-of-service (OSS) violations for working longer than allowed by law and for failing to maintain proper time records that show how long it had been since they last had rest or sleep. Both violations can lead to fatigued driving, which police say causes more than 100,000 highway accidents every year. The 2015 Roadcheck also found OSS violations in nearly 22 percent of tested trucks (roughly 9,700 vehicles) that required them to be removed from the road.

As predicted, the number of violations was lower last year than the year prior, which could mean a couple of different things. Hopefully it means that trucking companies and drivers are doing a better job of obeying the law and playing by the rules. However, with the advance notice providing the opportunity for “Roadcheck vacations” (as they are called in the industry), last year’s improved numbers may fail to account for unsafe trucks and drivers who purposely avoided inspection.

The smart way to approach Roadcheck as an average motorist is to be particularly careful on the highway in the days and weeks following the inspection period when many drivers return to the road. That means everyone should be on high alert beginning Friday, June 10, through the weekend and at least the following week. Although not every big rig you see will have safety problems and not all of the drivers will be unqualified or improperly licensed, knowing about Roadcheck and taking the proper precautions will protect you and your family.

As an example of what happens when safety inspections are not announced months ahead of time, we can look to a recent inspection blitz conducted in Maryland by state police, environmental regulators and local police departments. The one-day effort included inspections of more than 400 vehicles, primarily tractor-trailers and semis, and the results were flatly scary. In the end, more than 25 percent of the inspected vehicles were ordered off the highway for having tires that could not pass inspection or other violations. One big rig was found to be more than 12 tons overweight, and a total of 115 traffic citations were issued in addition to 251 warnings. Those are some terrible numbers.

 

Rules for Truck Driver Drug Testing Change for the Worse

While the U.S. economy continues to improve in 2016, putting more freight and more drivers on the highways, the federal arm overseeing trucking has reduced the number of random drug tests required of big rig drivers.

This hardly makes sense. Substance abuse continues to be a serious problem in the industry. Yet, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Jan. 1 lowered the rate of random testing for controlled substances from 50 percent to 25 percent of the average number of driver positions.

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The FMCSA has the authority to lower the rate of testing when results have shown those testing positive for drugs holds steady below 1 percent over two years. Federal data show that has been the case for 2011, 2012 and 2013. If the percentage of truckers testing positive rises above the 1 percent threshold again, then the motor carrier administration can again increase its spot checks.

While the recent trend line for positive tests is encouraging, the low percentage fails to account for those drug-abusing drivers who remain on the highway unchecked. There really should be zero tolerance for controlled substance use among drivers of these huge, dangerous vehicles crowding interstates across America. As for alcohol testing, the minimum annual random testing rate remains at 10 percent.

Steve addresses common questions from injury victims

If you have suffered a catastrophic injury following an accident that was no fault of your own or if a love one has been killed in a similar situation, then you likely have many questions but very few quick and easy answers.

Steve Laird has represented many people who have been severely injured in truck wrecks and other types of accidents, as well as families whose loved ones have been killed. For more than 30 years, he has helped answer questions for many clients and their families while representing their interests in legal jurisdictions throughout Texas and the entire country.

The most common questions from injury victims and those whose family members have been killed in an accident are about what will happen next. How am I going to get through this? How will my family’s bills get paid? Will my injuries cause me to lose my job? How much work will I have to miss? Those are just a few of the common questions that Steve answers when meeting with his clients.

One thing a lot of accident survivors, unfortunately, wait to decide is whether to talk with a lawyer. Many victims believe they will be labeled as “lawsuit happy” if they talk with a lawyer, but nothing could be further from the truth. Our laws are designed to protect people who have been injured or families of loved ones who have died in preventable accidents, whether it’s a tractor-trailer wreck, an unsafe worksite or place of business, or a poorly designed or defective product. There is no shame in getting an informed legal opinion. Instead, it’s smart and it’s the right thing to do in order to protect yourself and your family.

Another thing that many victims fail to consider is the possibility that their lawyer may be able to resolve their case without ever actually filing a lawsuit. When a trucking company, truck driver or product manufacturer are clearly at fault, their insurance companies often decide to offer a money settlement before any case is filed.

The only catch is that insurance companies typically offer very low settlement amounts if no attorney is involved because they think victims aren’t smart enough to know they are being sold on a bad deal. That is why it is so important to have an experienced lawyer representing your interests when insurance companies are involved. There are countless stories about people accepting settlements that they thought were reasonable, only to find out later that they can’t even cover their medical costs, much less pay their rent or support their families.

When you call on the Law Offices of Steven C. Laird, your questions become our questions. We are passionate about representing our clients and making sure they don’t have to continue to suffer after they have been injured by the negligence of others. Call our team today to get your questions answered and learn more about how we can help you.

What Happens After a Truck Accident?

The difference between what happens to a trucking accident victim and a trucking company after a highway wreck are as big as the disparity between an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer and a 3,000-pound car.

In the minutes, hours and days after being involved in a truck wreck, victims typically are focused on any physical injuries they may have suffered and their road to recovery. At the same time, the other side already is working toward building the alibis and excuses they hope will shield them from liability.

While you may be making the first call to your insurance company to check on your coverage, the trucking company already is assembling a specific team – sometimes a small army – of investigators, experts, lawyers and company officials whose sole mission is to make sure they pay nothing or as little as possible based on their role in the wreck.

Many people who have been injured, or family members whose loved ones have been killed, in wrecks involving semis, tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks often find out they have waited too long to seek the same kind of legal protections that trucking companies begin putting together before police even arrive at the accident scene.

Hiring a lawyer who has experience in trucking cases is crucial if you have been involved in a highway collision with one of these mammoth vehicles. Evidence must be preserved quickly and witness statements must be collected before memories fade or critical evidence is lost.

An experienced truck wreck lawyer will know how to find out whether the trucking company has the proper insurance as required by law, whether the company has a history of similar accidents, and other details that will help prove your case. These same lawyers will come prepared with their own investigators and experts who can tell your side of the story.

Many truck accident victims are uncomfortable with the idea of filing a lawsuit, but without the help of our legal system, most of them will never find the justice they deserve. Our courts are intended to protect regular citizens like you and me, and putting the system to work on your behalf is a right, not something anyone should be ashamed to do.

If you or one of your loved ones has been involved in a truck accident, please call the Law Offices of Steven C. Laird for a free consultation and more information on your legal rights.

Could Employee Stock Ownership Plans Fix Trucking’s Turnover Problem?

While trends have been improving, large trucking fleets continue to struggle to keep their qualified drivers from leaving. The U.S. annual driver turnover rate has been roughly 90 percent or higher since 2012, according to the Journal of Commerce, which tracks global trade topics.

That’s extremely costly for trucking companies, with estimates in the thousands of dollars to recruit and hire each driver, resulting in an overall toll in the billions of dollars to industry. But switching jobs also is costly to truck drivers. Many of those who pilot semis, tractor-trailers and other big rigs are unable to accumulate retirement savings, often live paycheck-to-paycheck and then take a huge step backward once they are unable to work and have only Social Security to rely upon.

We have discussed in previous blog posts the many elements that could help retain good drivers – better pay, safe driving financial incentives, improved work/life balance and quality of life.

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Well, here’s an additional idea: Major carriers could take a page from the playbooks of other industries, including grocery, construction, manufacturing and distribution, and create employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).

A recent Forbes examines the ESOP set up at Paladin Capital Inc., a 1,000-truck operation based in Nashville, Tennessee, formerly called Quickway Distribution Services Inc. The company’s voluntary driver turnover rate is 20 percent (plus 15 percent initiated by the company in enforcing quality standards). Drivers have helped Paladin reach a near-perfect on-time performance record for retail chain clients and have cut fuel-wasting idle time for a savings of $500,000 to $1 million. The safety record also is admirable.

“We have a company where everybody has the same last name: shareholder,” Bill Prevost, Paladin CEO, was quoted as saying. In just 10 years, some Paladin drivers have amassed ESOP retirement accounts of nearly $200,000, the Forbes column explains.

Giving workers a piece of the business that employs them is surely a powerful incentive toward good work, cost savings and employment longevity. As the U.S. economy continues to improve, big trucking companies may find it even more challenging to retain good drivers. An employee stock ownership plan seems like one smart idea some companies should consider.

Coercion Rule Will Make Highways Safer

At the end of January, “regular” drivers and those who pilot 18-wheelers, semis and other big rigs will benefit from a new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rule that undoubtedly will make our roads safer.

The so-called “coercion rule” prohibits motor carriers, shippers, receivers and transportation intermediaries from threatening or otherwise coercing drivers to operate commercial vehicles in violation of several FMCSA regulations. Violators will face fines of up to $16,000 per incident or the FMCSA may order that their operations be closed.

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Many think $16,000 is a pretty flimsy fine considering the potential damage when trucks are not operated properly, but it does represent a start. What may grab more attention in the trucking industry is if the FMCSA uses its authority to actually shut down a violating company or companies.

Although the original version of the new rule would have held trucking companies and the others listed above to the “know or should have known” standard in terms of knowing whether drivers were violating federal safety rules, that language was removed in the final version.

Regardless, we now have a new rule that will punish companies that threaten to retaliate against drivers who refuse to flout safety laws. While the new rule was being developed, the FMCA heard from truck drivers who said they were threatened with termination and reduced pay, denied subsequent loads and other forms of punishment.

According to the FMCSA, threatened drivers were coerced to violate requirements for securing a commercial driver’s license; ignore hours-of-service rules designed to prevent fatigued or distracted driving; violate testing for alcohol or drugs; and transporting hazardous loads, among others.

Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was quoted as saying, “This rule enables us to take enforcement action against anyone in the transportation chain who knowingly and recklessly jeopardizes the safety of the driver and of the motoring public.”

Those are noble words that everyone will agree should be backed by a strong response from the FMCSA the next time a trucking company threatens a driver in hopes of convincing them to break the law.