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The truck lobby’s asinine arguments against emergency braking systems

Written by Steve Gursten Posted October 26th, 2016

Attorney Joe Fried tells govtech.com why naysayers are off the mark, as legislation drags on commercial truck emergency braking systems

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A recent story on gov.tech.com highlights the ugly power of the trucking lobby. Preventable truck accident injuries and deaths are occurring every single day, as D.C. bureaucracy drags its heels on proposed legislation that would require heavy trucks to be equipped with “forward looking avoidance technology,” also called “emergency braking systems.”

To put it simply, much of this fantastic technology is already on the market and could prevent tractor-trailers from slamming into cars. But only an estimated 3% of commercial motor vehicles are equipped, according to published reports. After several wrongful deaths from rear-end tractor trailer crashes in Georgia and throughout the U.S., including the serious truck accident injury of comedian Tracy Morgan, road safety advocates are again pushing the federal government to make the technology mandatory on all heavy commercial trucks.

Our attorneys are extremely familiar with emergency braking systems, as Truck Roundtable Co-founder Joseph Fried made the bold move of securing commitments from the trucking companies involved in his recent $80 million settlement to make changes to prevent future crashes, including implementing the latest emergency braking systems on all new trucks.

Joe’s settlement stems from a deadly truck wreck near Savannah, Georgia in April 2015. A truck driver slammed in to a line of cars that had stopped for an earlier crash. There were seven nursing students in two of the cars. Five were tragically killed and two were seriously injured. The trucker never hit his brakes before impact.

Our attorneys have written on this trucking law blog that this technology is a safety game changer that can prevent hundreds of crashes every year.  An emergency braking system is constantly scanning the road ahead for obstacles, such as stopped traffic. If the trucker fails to apply brakes in an appropriate way when an obstacle is near, the system will automatically apply the brakes and slow the truck down – all the way to a stop if necessary. The system works, and it will only continue to get better. But even now, it’s certainly better than a trucker who is tired, distracted, or who has an emergency medical condition when behind the wheel.

Although Joe was noble and groundbreaking in his move to secure the safety commitment from the truck company at hand in his case (which was settled with two other attorneys as well), he was recently questioned on whether the collision avoidance system really helps, in the story by govtech.com, “Truck Safety-Tech Bogged Down in D.C. Bureaucracy.”

The truck in the crash involving the nursing students was actually equipped with collision avoidance, as the story highlighted. Joe said it’s not clear why the system didn’t work, but pointed to an older-model system that couldn’t react to stopped cars (The Walmart truck in Morgan’s crash also had an older system that for unclear reasons didn’t avert the accident, according to the story).
Joe, who represents three of the victims in the I-16 crash, stressed that truck driver John Wayne Johnson had been fired from an earlier job in 2011 after falling asleep at the wheel and crashing a big-rig, but U.S. Express/Total Transportation of Mississippi hired him anyway.

This is an important point. The technology, when it’s updated and working properly, can most definitely prevent serious truck crashes. It’s no substitute for a well-trained driver. But why not equip truck drivers with technology that can prevent these terrible wrecks?  We know that truckers will fall asleep or that an emergency can happen. We know truckers still use cell phones to text, even when the use of cell phones now violates safety regulations. If we know these wrecks are foreseeable and that several hundred will still occur every year, then why not install this life-saving technology now to protect the public and the truck drivers?

The trucking lobby’s ridiculous reasons against advance braking systems

Here are the naysayers’ (read: trucking lobby’s) asinine reasons against advance braking systems, according to the article. And while our truck attorneys don’t like to swear, we must call BS here:

  • Detractors, though, complain that the technology might actually cause more crashes, giving irresponsible drivers an excuse to take their eyes off the road.”
  • Independent truckers also contend it would also give an economic edge to the companies hiring the most inexperienced drivers and force small businesses to pay thousands of dollars per truck for the systems, while bigger haulers would get bulk deals that cost only hundreds of dollars per truck.”
  • And finally, giant trucking lobby OOIDA’s ridiculous stance: “With driver shortages plaguing the industry, big trucking companies have been churning out more drivers with less training, and automatic braking might become a “crutch” for inexperienced drivers…”

Our own trucking attorneys have too often seen the devastating carnage that results when commercial trucks barrel into cars. We strongly believe there’s nothing out there that will have a more immediate or profound impact on highway safety today than the implementation of this technology in the trucking industry.

The argument that emergency braking systems are too expensive is also ridiculous. Current list prices for advance braking systems range from about $4,000 to $7,000 per vehicle, but the price could drop to as little as $500 if the systems were mass produced, according to the story. And even taking into account the $4,000-$7,000 price range as of now, trucking companies that install advance braking systems would immediately save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on insurance premiums, as insurance companies utilize safety discounts when underwriting and when safety technology is being utilized.

How many lives could be saved from automatic braking systems?

The trucking industry’s own statistics show that advance braking systems would reduce read-end crashes by 28% (over 4,500 a year), reduce fatalities by 44% (100 or so a year) and reduce injuries by 47% (almost 3,600 a year).

In addition, if such systems had been in place in 2011 and 2012, they could have saved 250 people who died in rear-end tractor-trailer accidents, according to a recent report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

So what are lawmakers doing about requiring forward looking avoidance technology?

Road Safe America, a nonprofit organization promoting driver safety, petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation in February to make collision avoidance systems federally required for vehicles heavier than 10,000 pounds.

But the effort has been mired in Washington bureaucracy, according to the govtech.com story and our attorneys’ experience. And unless Congress decides to pass Road Safe America’s bill or a similar one, DOT rulemaking is the only avenue safety advocates have left. And as our attorneys know, it’s an incredibly slow process. Just getting DOT to agree to consider a petition can take years, then studying the technology and hearing from supporters and detractors can take years more.

In a recent report NTSB says DOT’s “lack of progress” has been unacceptable and disappointing, the report says, because it’s clear now that the systems can prevent crashes, or at least make them less disastrous. The board is calling on manufacturers to, at a minimum, make collision warning systems standard both in commercial trucks and passenger vehicles. It’s also imploring DOT to establish performance requirements and testing procedures “as soon as possible,” setting standards for reliable products, according to govtech.com.

We at the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable couldn’t agree more.

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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