Trucking Companies, The Trucker Myth

The Trucker

“I do not hate truckers. I think the majority of truck drivers are good hard working people. It is the few companies in the industry that push profits over safety, risking the trucker, other people on the road and their families. Wrongdoers should answer for the preventable injuries and deaths.” ~ Howard Spiva

Perhaps television shows and movies have created this stereotype.

Some examples that come to mind are the strong and tough, arm-wrestling, Sylvester Stallone, who played Hawk, in Over the Top or the fun loving Burt Reynolds in the three Smokey and the Bandit movies. Other perceived characteristics of truckers are highly skilled and courageous and in many shows and movies they are heroes. This is especially true in some of the popular 1970’s trucking, “cb-radio” movies such as Convoy, Movin On, 18 Wheels of Justice, White Line Fever, Breaker Breaker, Steel Cowboy, The Great Smokey Roadblock, BJ and the Bear, and many others.

Yes, America loves the hard working, strong, blue collar, family man, representing the work ethic of our country. The American hero is just struggling to put food on the table. He is a highly skilled, physically fit, professional, who can navigator the roads with endurance, and confidence. This almost mythical worker, is often times seen as a great husband and father touring the country in his state-of-the-art equipped truck with beautiful polished aluminum wheels.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE INDUSTRY

True, there are a few major trucking and shipping companies that are examples of professionalism. But most are not like Coca Cola and the industry leader, JJ Keller & Associates. The majority of trucking companies are small volume operators. There are probably no more or no less percentages of incompetent truckers than folks who work in other industries.

The difference is truckers, like pilots, are trusted as “professionals” and their decisions and actions can mean life and death.

Many hundreds of trucking companies across America consist only of small time operations that happen to own a tractor-trailer. These are often short-sighted, hand-to-mouth operators providing the barest safety policies or ethics; other than to get a delivery done for the least cost and highest profit. An even closer look at the the trucking industry and virtually any truck wreck, will reveal rampant drug use, “deferred” truck maintenance, mechanical problems, excessive driving hours, lack of sleep, sketchy qualifications and doubtful ethics. Safety, training and vehicle maintenance often take a back seat to company profits. Sadly, many companies encourage speeding and driving long hours by the manner in which it pays its drivers. Drivers are motivated by “dollars per mile”, and there are slogans encouraging such behavior like “on time every time”. Much like the pizza deliveries of 1980s when speeding drivers seriously injured and killed people trying tor the “30 minutes or free”.

GEORGIA ENFORCEMENT DIVISION

The Department of Motor Vehicle Safety was dissolved in 2005 by Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue and all enforcement for compliance, to Motor Carrier Regulations and laws, was moved to the Motor Carrier Compliance Division of the Georgia Department of Public Safety. This enforcement division inspects approximately 90,000 trucks per year. Out of those inspected, approximately 38% of the trucks are “out of service compliance” (unsafe) and 17% of the drivers are “out of compliance”. The most common reason for the trucks being cited is for problems with the brakes and tires. For drivers, the prominent problems are too many hours driving, no proof in log books and alcohol/drugs in their system. The truth is clear that many of these giant trucks are poorly maintained and often are loaded far beyond their 80,000 pound capacity. Our law firm’s experience has been that many drivers have poor driving histories with multiple violations and wrecks.

Another problem is “out of compliance” medical certificates on the driver. Many false certificates are found to be purchased on-line and often forged. A truck driver with bad health is similar to an airline pilot who doesn’t pass his physical, they are dangerous. Our office handle a case when an insulin dependent diabetic driver, was driving a log truck, after having most of his right foot amputated. His “foot” kept slipping off the gas pedal. This resulted in our client coming over a rise on a dark expressway only to have a log pierce his vehicle’s grill, the dash and then his own mid section. He lived, but the logging company had inadequate liability insurance available for his medical treatment, lost income and his lifelong losses.

OVER LOADED AND CHEAP

The Georgia “weigh stations”, that enforce size and weight limits, screen 11.5 million trucks per year. In Georgia, approximately 60,000 trucks are found to be “over weight” each year. These “over loaded” trucks costs Georgia citizens money for the damage to our highways, and they also create serious safety risks on our roads. Nationwide the number of citations issued is closer to 850,000. The efforts to deter overloaded trucks are “suspect” when closely examined. Previously fines in Georgia, before 2005, were often less than 1/8 of one cent per “over weight pound”. Currently fines are based on is a sliding scale, depending on how overweight a truck is, however, the average fine is 5 cents per pound and the maximum total fine is only $99.00!

So why aren’t the laws tougher?

It’s not because lawmakers are unaware of the dangers of overloaded trucks. They know. It is not because they don’t know that the penalties for breaking the law are light. The truth is that there is little political will to make the consequences harsher. Resistance to increased fines doesn’t just come from the trucking industry, but also from businesses that depend on trucks to ship their goods to customers. We all should ask lawmakers to raise fines to both increase revenues for the state and to make our roads a little safer. Enforcement officials say the “overweight” policing are like a cat-and-mouse game. The Motor Carrier Compliance Division tries to catch the truckers. The truckers try to avoid the fines. But in this game, the cats don’t have much in the way of fangs or claws. Drivers of overweight vehicles can afford not to be too worried, because the law is stacked in their favor. Fines nationwide are small. Inspectors are stretched too thin and the trucking industry is.

SIZE MATTERS

Motorists near those overweight trucks are at a greater risk because they are more prone to all types of truck accidents. Weight does matter. Studies show that overweight trucks are more likely to be in accidents. They also roll over more easily and need more time and distance to stop. A truck weighing 120,000 pounds, needs 50 percent more distance and time to stop than a truck weighing the legal 80,000 pounds. Whether a truck has that extra space and time could make the difference between a fender bender and someone dying.

ROLLING DEATH

Whether they are overweight or not, the damage that trucks do on the nation’s roads is well-documented. One out of eight traffic fatalities in 2005 was the result of a collision involving a truck, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis. During 2005 alone, 5,212 people died in truck-related accidents. That is almost twice the number of people who died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Just one year of truck related deaths (over 5000), exceed the deaths in the five years of the current war (approximately 4200). In Georgia, many wrecks involve these big rigs and Georgia ranks among the top five states in the nation in the number of fatalities due to crashes of large trucks.

EXEMPTIONS

Even the regulations and rules intended to make trucking safe and make companies carry minimum insurance, are subject to political influence. This become clear in states such as Georgia that have “exemptions” to the rules for trucks involved in the transportation of Agricultural products and Forest products (logging trucks). The results are many dangerous trucks operating along the highways and back roads of Georgia that are dangerous and inadequately insured. Many trailers have no insurance. Inadequate liability insurance leaves the medical expenses of injured people to the Georgia taxpayers.

RAPID RESPONSE TEAMS

The insurance companies for trucking companies have “rapid response teams”. They often are at the scene even before emergency responders. Many attorneys have alleged at trucking seminars, that they have had cases where insurers hired investigators and experts, who have removed log books (both sets), tampered with GPS and data recorders (black boxes), taken photographs, and interviewed witnesses within minutes of a wreck. Folks hired by the insurance company document evidence and claim “work product” protections. This information, if discovered, could document negligent conduct by the trucker and their employer. This practice would suggest the similar need for someone involved in a trucking accident or their family to contact legal representation immediately.

MORE BAD NEWS ~ UNDER INSURED

In Georgia, a trucking company involved in intra-state commerce (only within Georgia) is only required to keep $100,000.00 in liability insurance! For interstate (multistate) travel the requirement is $750,000.00 in liability insurance. Some companies, due to their “contract” requirements with their customers, carry $1,000,000.00 in liability insurance. Unfortunately, these huge trucks cause so much damage and destruction in a wreck, even one million dollars is far insufficient to cover the actual damages. Our law firm has experienced many instances where such required insurance limits have fallen short. One example is where a truck caused over $200,000.00 in damages to the other vehicles. This property damage money had to be ducted from the aggravated or total limits, reducing the coverage available to the medical bills and lost wages of the injured people.

LONG LINE FOR SHORT INSURANCE

If most truckers being underinsured is not bad enough, often times the worker’s compensation insurance carrier, the Group Health carrier, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, Tri Care, Champus, and any med-pay carriers are all in line with their hands out asking for a share of the proceeds through off-sets, reimbursement and subrogation (paid back). A collision involves the law of physics, when a car and a truck collide, the car losses. A typical locomotive weighs about 300,000 pounds. Many over loaded trucks reach near half that weight. A collision that ends in multiple injuries and fatalities is not only preventable, but sadly the trucking company is often inadequately insured.

ALL WRECKS ARE NOT EQUAL

Anyone who assumes that a large semi-truck wreck is just a bigger car wreck is dangerously naive. Investigation, discovery, technology and law involved in the crashes of large commercial trucks are substantially different from other motor vehicle accident cases. You and the truck accident lawyer that you hire must know the difference to prevent the insurer from short changing you or your family in a recovery for injuries and damages associated with and eighteen-wheeled collision.

THE PURPOSE OF A LAWSUIT

The purpose of filing a truck accident claim is to make the at fault party, who is responsible for an injury or damages, “financially accountable” and not put the burden or costs on the family or the tax payer.

If you have an important decision, choose well.

Make it a great day!

Howard Spiva
Howard@spivalaw.com (email)
www.Spivalaw.com (main web page)
(912) 920-2000