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Friday, September 30, 2011

Dep't of Transportation may ban all commercial drivers from using cellphones while driving

A crash earlier this year in Kentucky may lead to a comprehensive ban on cellphone use for commercial drivers.  Since December of last year the Dep't of Transportation has considered implementing a ban on all handheld cellphone for the 3 million drivers of tractor trailers and other commercial vehicles.

The Kentucky crash killed 10 people and cellphone records of the truck driver demonstrated that he had used his cell phone 4 times in the minutes before the crash, the last call coming just as his truck left the freeway and crossed the median, going through the cable barrier and hitting a passenger van head on.

Earlier this month, federal safety investigators broadened their recommendations on cellphones and said all commercial drivers should be forbidden to use them, whether hand-held or not, except in emergencies.

“Distracted driving is becoming increasingly prevalent, exacerbating the danger we encounter daily on our roadways,” said the chairwoman of the safety board, Deborah A. P. Hersman. “It can be especially lethal when the distracted driver is at the wheel of a vehicle that weighs 40 tons and travels at highway speeds.” Mr. LaHood referred to such trucks as “80,000-pound unguided missiles.”

You can view the proposed cellphone rule here,  http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/administration/rulemakings/rule-programs/rule_making_details.aspx?ruleid=324

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Safe Holiday Driving



Memorial Day is one of the deadliest days of the year for motor vehicle accidents.  AAA estimates 35 million drivers will drive over 50 miles this weekend.  Remember to be extra attentive while driving, make sure you have plenty of rest and avoid cell phone conversations without a hands free device and never text while driving. 

While 94% of Americans believe distracted driving is a problem, almost 20% believe they can safely drive while multitasking, including texting.   So not only is it important to make sure you don't drive distracted, it is also important to take extra safety measures to protect yourself and family from other drivers who are distracted.    Keep a safe distance from vehicles in front of you and if you are passing a car or semi, pass smoothly and quickly (within the speed limit). 

If you are hit by a negligent driver another issue with holiday driving is the increased likelihood that the person that hits you will be from another state.   Multiple jurisdictions can raise different legal questions regarding the appropriate standard of care, subrogation, etc.  I recommend you immediately consult an attorney who can make sure your rights are protected, help you get appropriate medical care and make sure the negligent driver takes responsibility for his actions.    Feel free to post specific questions or email me at levarlaw@gmail.com. 






Thursday, February 17, 2011

FMCSA Proposes Use of Electronic Recorders


In a welcome move by the FMCSA, they have proposed a new rule that would require commercial truck and bus companies to install electronic on-board records (EOBRs) to monitor the number of hours a driver is in service.  Currently many drivers use a written log book to record the time they are driving, the time they are resting, unloading, etc.   These logbooks are often inaccurate and can be easily modified by the driver to show that he is in compliance even when he isn't. 

Under the new rule, those logbook entries would be more uniform and accurate, as the electronic data would show when the truck was moving and when it was at rest.  Drivers who drive longer then the hour of service regulations allow will no longer be able to easily modify their logbooks to cover up their hours of service violations.  This will likely lead to fewer hours of service violations, less fatigued drivers, and fewer wrecks.

As might be anticipated, many trucking companies and associations are complaining and the typical complaint is that new requirements will increase costs and unduly burden small operators.  I was skeptical of this complaint and did some research on my own.  I contacted 3 companies that offer EOBR equipment to trucking companies and solo drivers.  The most expensive unit was $3,000 from one company.  The other 2 companies offered the units for free if you signed a 2 or 3 year contract for a $35 to $40 monthly service fee that included software updates, real time online reports of your driving history and a number of other reports to meet state specific reporting requirements.  

Currently a trucker would pay between $3 and $10 a month for the physical logbooks, so this does increase their costs by $25-$35 per month.  However, it also seems to make reporting easier, as reports can be generated automatically. 
 
Once the public comment period opens up, I will post a link here so that anyone wishing to comment on the new regulation may do so.  I would encourage everyone to support this regulation and post a comment indicating that support. 





Monday, January 3, 2011

FMCSA Proposes Rule on Hours of Service for Truck Drivers

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a regulatory proposal that would revise hours-of-service (HOS) requirements for commercial truck drivers.

Although I won't go into a lot of detail on all the changes,  one of the most significant is the daily hours of service.  Currently most drivers are allowed to drive a maximum of 11 hours per day and be on-duty a maximum of 14 hours per day.   The new proposed rule would reduce the maximum on-duty hours to 13 per day and comments are being requested on moving the maximum driving hours to 10.  More details about other changes can be found at the department's website here.


The reduction in hours on duty per day and maximum driving hours will undoubtedly save lives and reduce the number of tractor-trailer wrecks.  The National Transportation Safety Board reports that driver fatigue is a factor in 30 to 40 percent of trucking accidents annually.   

There is a 60 day window from December 29, 2011 in which the public can comment on the proposed changes.  I encourage everyone to visit the FMCSA's Web site and encourage a 10 hour maximum driving rule.  Click here to be taken to the comment page of the U.S. Department of Tranportation's website, or go to http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/topics/hos-proposed/comments.aspx#online.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a new rule that would ban interstate commercial truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating a commercial motor vehicle.   Violators would face fines up to $2,750 per offense and multiple offenses could result in suspension of their commercial driver's license (CDL). 

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration research shows that using a hand-held cell phone while driving requires a commercial driver to take several risky steps. In particular, commercial drivers reaching for an object, such as a cell phone, while driving are three times more likely to be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event. Drivers dialing a hand-held cell phone while driving increase their risk by six times. Many of the largest carriers, such as UPS, Covenant Transport, and Wal-Mart, already have company policies in place banning their drivers from using hand-held phones. In September 2010, FMCSA issued a regulation banning text messaging while operating a commercial motor vehicle.
Nearly 5,500 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research.

FMCSA is providing 60 days for the public to comment on this rulemaking. The comment period begins once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. The proposal and information about how to submit comments is here.

I would encourage everyone to take 5 minutes and go to the comment section of the FMSCA website and voice your support for this safety rule.  Distracted driving contributed to half a million people being injured in 2009 and almost 5,500 being killed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Small Carriers Sue to Prevent Release of Safety Data

Earlier today I posted the message indicating that the Dep't of Transportation FMCSA was launching it Compliance Safety and Accountability (CSA) Program.  What I failed to point out was that the launch of this new safety program was almost delayed due to last minute lawsuits by some associations that represent commercial carriers. 

These associations filed suit while the companies that contribute to the association remained in the background.  They claimed that allowing the public access to their safety records could put them out of business, particularly in this difficult economic climate.

Over 2700 carriers are members of one of these organizations, but I have been unable to discover the names of these allegedly small companies.  A few of them signed affidavits in the lawsuit, including BP Express, a trucking company that has 6 terminals from Knoxville, TN to West Palm Beach, FL.  Another small company that signed an affidavit for court was Express America Trucking, Inc that employs 165 drivers at 3 terminals in the southeast.   In addition to not being able to find the names of all members of the organization that filed suit, I have been unable to find the guidelines they use to define 'small trucking companies.'    I will keep looking and I invite a representative from the National Association of Small Trucking Companies to shed some light on this issue. 

Dep't of Transportation launches new compliance and safety program

12/13/2010 - FMCSA Launches New Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) Program for Commercial Trucks and Buses

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today took a major step toward improving commercial truck and bus safety with the launch of the Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program.
The centerpiece of CSA is the Safety Measurement System (SMS), which will analyze all safety-based violations from inspections and crash data to determine a commercial motor carrier’s on-road performance. The new safety program will allow FMCSA to reach more carriers earlier and deploy a range of corrective interventions to address a carrier’s specific safety problems.
“The CSA program will help us more easily identify unsafe commercial truck and bus companies,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Better data and targeted enforcement will raise the safety bar for commercial carriers and empower them to take action before safety problems occur.”
The program also advances the Obama Administration’s open government initiative by providing the public with safety data in a more user-friendly format.  This will give consumers a better picture of those carriers that pose a safety risk.  CSA was also tested in nine pilot states before the program was launched.
“We worked closely with our partners in the motor vehicle community to develop this powerful new program,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “CSA is an important new tool that will help reduce commercial vehicle-related crashes and save lives.”
The SMS uses seven safety improvement categories called BASICs to examine a carrier’s on-road performance and potential crash risk. The BASICs are Unsafe Driving, Fatigued Driving (Hours-of-Service), Driver Fitness, Controlled Substances/Alcohol, Vehicle Maintenance, Cargo-Related and Crash Indicator. Under FMCSA’s old measurement system, carrier performance was assessed in only four broad categories.
By looking at a carrier’s safety violations in each SMS category, FMCSA and state law enforcement will be better equipped to identify carriers with patterns of high-risk behaviors and apply interventions that provide carriers the information necessary to change unsafe practices early on.
Safety interventions include early warning letters, targeted roadside inspections and focused compliance reviews that concentrate enforcement resources on specific issues identified by the SMS.
FMCSA will continue to conduct onsite comprehensive compliance reviews for carriers with safety issues across multiple BASICs. And, where a carrier has not taken the appropriate corrective action, FMCSA will invoke strong civil penalties.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Critter Crossings Improve Highway Safety

Highway underpasses for animals make roadways safer for wildlife and cars, a new study finds.
Researchers looked at a new route planned for U.S. Highway 64 that cut through a forested and agricultural area in Washington County, N.C. The new road included three underpasses with fencing that ran alongside the road near each underpass to funnel animals into the underpasses.
The study is published in the current issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management.
The researchers used cameras and animal track surveys to monitor wildlife activity. During the 13 months after the road was completed, the cameras took 2,433 photos of various animals using the underpasses, including deer, bears, raccoons and domestic dogs and cats.
When the researchers compared data from nearby sections of Highway 64, they found that wildlife deaths were 58 percent lower on the new part of the highway.
The findings suggest that the wildlife underpasses are a cost-effective way to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, said the researchers.

While I like the idea of underpasses to reduce accidents, the Arizona Highway Department has also experimented with a cheaper alternative that seems to be working well.  It was tested in areas where underpasses were cost prohibitive.  The alternative is a 'electric crosswalk.'  Basically fences funnel game to a specific opening where the crosswalk is build.  Using thermal imaging cameras and military-grade tracking software to capture large animal movement in the right of way the system then determines if the animal is large enough to pose a threat to motorists.  If so a flashing sign 500 feet from the end of the fence warns drivers.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tractor-trailer hits school bus in Louisiana, 2 kids critical

Early this morning a JB Hunt owned truck slammed into the back of a school bus.  The crash happened around 7:30 a.m. on a straight, clear stretch of U.S. 190 between Port Barre and Opelousas, about 50 miles west of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.   The school bus reportedly had it flashers on and stop signs extended at the time of the wreck.  The bus driver apparently saw the truck bearing down on the bus and warned the kids to hold on in anticipation of the collision.  


The impact to the back bumper of the bus was sufficient to push up to the rear wheels of the bus.   For some reason, the truck driver has yet to be cited, although it seems clear that he was driving too fast and failed to keep a proper distance and lookout.  


As someone who has litigated tractor-trailer cases, it is very important to preserve as much evidence as possible and to do so quickly.  The driving logs of the truck driver need to be examined as well as his cell phone and texting records.  Also, data from all event recorders on the truck need to be downloaded immediately, to avoid any loss of data.  


Thankfully, emergency workers arrived quickly and efficiently dispatched injured kids to area hospitals where they received timely treatment.  All 21 kids were injured, 3 originally classified as critical and two underwent emergency surgery.   Let's all hope for complete recoveries for the kids and that JB Hunt and the driver take appropriate responsibility for the wreck.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Safety Announcements

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has recently announced some modifications in the Safety Measurement System (SMS) that will be rolled out to the nation in December.  This is a part of the FMCSA's initiative entitled CSA 2010 (Compliance, Safety, Accountability).  The changes include the following:

  1. Modify the presentation of SMS BASIC results
  • Change the term “Deficient” to “Alert” when a motor carrier’s score in one or more BASICs is above the FMCSA threshold for intervention. 
  • Change the highlight color from red to orange.
  • Improve the language to clarify that BASIC results signify the carrier is prioritized for an FMCSA intervention.

  1. Modify Cargo-Related BASIC
  • Recalibrate the Cargo-Related BASIC by adjusting the cargo securement violation severity weightings based on input from subject matter experts (SMEs).
  • Modify the public display to show the SMS Cargo-Related BASIC violations only.  The percentiles and intervention status will not be on public display.
BASIC refers to the CSA SMS's Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories.   Let's hope the new system does provide more accountability for drivers and the trucking companies and thus promotes better compliance and safety.    However, removing the percentiles and intervention status from the public displays does not seem to promote accountability. I am anxious to see what the additional analysis leads the FMCSA to do with this category.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Don't Drive Drowsy this Holiday Season

More than 40 percent of drivers say they've fallen asleep at the wheel, and about one in ten admitted doing so during the past year, according to a study released Monday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a nonprofit research and educational organization.  One in every six deadly car crashes results from a fatigue-impaired driver, estimates the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That's compared to about one in three caused by a drunk driver.  "Sleepiness decreases awareness, slows reaction time, and impairs judgment, just like drugs or alcohol," said AAA Foundation President Peter Kissinger in a statement released with the new study.

If you are traveling with your family for the holidays, make sure you get sufficient rest prior to the trip.  Even shorter trips of 2 to 4 hours can be deadly if you are not rested.  Just as importantly, drive defensively and be watchful of other drivers who may be fatigued.  Tractor-trailers present a greater danger when their drivers are fatigued and many of them are also trying to get home for the holidays after a long haul and tempted to drive longer than is safe. 

Keep a close lookout for tractor-trailers and be aware that fatigued tractor-trailer drivers will react more slowly to dangers and are more slow to recognize dangers.  Avoid their blind spots.  If passing a tractor-trailer, be careful not to linger in their blind spot more than necessary.   The blind spot is the point where your car becomes invisible to his mirrors.  Tractor-trailers often have larger blind spots than automobiles.  If you look at his rear view mirrors and can't see the driver's face, you could be in the blind spot. 

Remember these rules and keep your family safe for the holidays. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tractor-Trailers and Rear Impact Protection

Most of you have probably seen the rear guards on the back of a tractor- trailer and not paid much attention to them.  For those involved in a rear end collision with a tractor-trailer, those guards may represent the difference between life and death.  They are designed to prevent a car from sliding under the trailer upon impact.  If proper rear guards are in place, your bumper should impact the rear guard.  Your bumper is designed to absorb considerably more force than your windshield (or your head) and therefore reduce the amount of force your body receives. 

In 1996 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) required trucks with GVWR over 10,000 and manufactured after January 26, 1998 be equipped with underride guards with strength testing and energy absorption requirements.  Rear guards had been required since 1952, but prior to 1998 they didn't have to meet energy absorption requirements or strength testing.   Also, the 1998 changes require now that the rear guards be no more than 22 inches above the ground, no more than 4 inches from each side of the trailer, and no more than 12 inches offset from the rear plane of the trailer. 

Preliminary data suggest these new guidelines are reducing fatalities and serious injuries to person involved in tractor-trailer wrecks. The report can be found at
http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811375.pdf

The NHTSA allows public comment on this report for 120 days from the date of report.  The comment period will end March 8, 2011.  If anyone wants to comment on this report, they can do so at the following site:
http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2010/11/08/2010-28111/federal-motor-vehicle-safety-standards-rear-impact-guards-rear-impact-protection-technical-report-on

Friday, November 5, 2010

Colorado Trucking Company - Repeated Violations of Hour-of-Service Rule Leads to Order

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today announced it has ordered JBS Carriers, Inc. of Greeley, Colorado to install electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) on its entire fleet of over 700 commercial trucks by March 2011 or pay $81,780 in civil fines.

The order comes in response to a comprehensive investigation by FMCSA's Western Service Center that found the company in serious violation of federal hours-of-service (HOS) rules and commercial driver's license (CDL) requirements.

In the final settlement agreement issued by FMCSA on October 7, 2010, the agency cited JBS Carriers for 102 counts of falsifying drivers' hours-of-service records and three counts of allowing drivers with a suspended, revoked or canceled commercial driver's license to operate a motor vehicle.

Electronic on-board recorders are devices attached to commercial vehicles that automatically record the number of hours drivers spend operating the vehicle. Driving hours are regulated by federal hours-of-service rules, which are designed to prevent commercial vehicle-related crashes and fatalities by prescribing on-duty and rest periods for drivers.

Arkansas Behind the Curve

The Federal Highway Administration, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and several state departments of transportation are promoting traffic roundabouts as safer alternatives to intersections with traffic lights.  Arkansas, however, is not one of the 29 states with a program to promote such roundabouts.

The Federal Highway Administration has more information and data on why roundabouts can be safer than traffic light intersections.  They site 3 specific ways that roundabouts improve safety at intersections by:
  • eliminating or altering conflicts types
  • decreasing speeds into and through the intersection
  • decreasing speed differentials at intersections

Roundabouts can easily accommodate tractor-trailer traffic.  A critical design element that allows trucks to successfully negotiate a roundabout is the truck turning apron, which is located in the middle of the roundabout. This apron is designed for the back wheels of the trucks to drive over. This is accomplished by designing the curb to be mountable.

Mountable curbs are shorter than regular curbs and the concrete apron is colored to deter regular passenger vehicles from using it.

I have personally litigated a number of wrecks caused by tractor-trailer drivers making improper right turns.  I think properly constructed roundabouts would also help avoid wrecks caused when tractor-trailers make wide right turns.

The complete US Department of Transportation report on roundabouts is available at http://www.tfhrc.gov/safety/00068.htm

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

2010 Auto Insurer Rankings

A state Insurance Department recently released its 2010 rankings for auto insurance companies based on the number of 'upheld' complaints against it.  Nationwide Mutual Insurance company scored best with no upheld complaints out of 55 filed complaints.  That was in spite of 140 million in premiums to Nationwide for 2008 and 2009.   GEICO also scored in the upper half with 448 complaints but only 15 upheld.

Allstate didn't fare nearly as well.  They received 1,023 complaints, of which 180 were upheld, the lowest score of any company averaging more than 100 million in premiums.  Next lowest of that larger group was Travelers Home and Marine followed by State Farm and Progressive.

The full report can be found at:
 http://www.ins.state.ny.us/auto/2010/auto2010.pdf