October 2011 Archives

Cell Phone Ban Would Reduce Risk of North Carolina Trucking Accidents

October 21, 2011, by

FOX Carolina is reporting that the National Transportation Safety Board is pushing to ban bus and truck drivers from using cell phones.

Our trucking accident attorneys in Asheville and Greenville know it is long past time for the federal government to act on this important issue. A year ago, the government banned bus and truck drivers from texting while driving. It was a start but did not go far enough in ensuring these professional drivers keep their eyes on the road. 569266_truck_5th_avenue.jpg

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports more than 5,000 motorists a year are killed in accidents involving a distracted driver. And trucking accidents already account for about 1 in 9 of the nation's fatal accidents. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports 3,380 motorists were killed and more than 74,000 were injured in accidents with large trucks last year.

And the risk of North Carolina bus accidents continues to increase. Several high-profile bus accidents this summer have the federal government pushing bus safety. Low-fare carriers have come under particular fire.

The truth of the matter is there are all kinds of ways the government could increase safety. Making speed-limiting devices and data recorders mandatory is one option being discussed; better drug and alcohol testing; better tracking of hours-of-service rules and more limitations on prescription medications are all critical areas that need addressed.

But none of that makes much sense as long as the government is permitting drivers to barrel down the highway in 80,000 pound tractor-trailers while talking on a cell phone.

Safety advocates hail the proposal as the most sweeping safety improvement since mandatory seat belts. Many truckers are against the proposal, as you might imagine. They say the ban goes too far, especially since it would prohibit hands-free devices as well as those that are hand-held.

The NTSB made the endorsement after a fiery wreck in Kentucky killed the trucker and 10 motorists in a van on their way to a wedding. The government said the trucker was talking on his cell phone when he crossed through the median, over a cable barrier and slammed into the van.

The government has already issued such bans for aviation and ship operators.

"It may not be something that's widely embraced," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. "This is not going to be popular. But, we're not here to be popular. We're here to do what needs to be done."

The NTSB has sent the proposal to all 50 states and to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Currently, truckers caught texting and driving face fines of up to $2,750. The DOT has already recommended a ban on hand-held devices, a final rule on that issue is expected yet this fall.

The American Trucking Association does not support a ban on hands-free devices, saying there was not enough evidence that hands-free devices created a distraction worthy of being outlawed.

The Governor's Highway Safety Association also questioned the science behind such a proposal, saying more information was needed before the issue could be presented to all 50 states.

In reality, there is a growing body of evidence and research that suggests hands-free cell phones are no safer; that the cognitive distraction of talking on a phone substantially increases the risk of an accident, whether the driver is using a hands-free or hand-held device.

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GDL Programs Increase Risks for Car Accidents in Waynesville for Older Teens

October 17, 2011, by

Graduated Drivers Licensing (GDL) programs may not be as effective in preventing teen car accidents in Asheville and elsewhere in North Carolina as once predicted. The three-tier system gradually exposes driving conditions to new drivers. The problem with the system has been pointed out in a recent analysis, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The article stated that more teens are being involved in fatal accidents once they turn 18 and receive an unrestricted license, according to CNN Health.
The study pointed out that the rate of fatal accidents among 16-year-old drivers experienced a 26 percent decrease from 1986 to 2007, while 18-year-old drivers experienced a 12 percent increase. The increase completely canceled out the progress made by the younger drivers.

Our North Carolina car accident attorneys understand that teen drivers require the assistance and concern of parents long after they've completed the GDL system. What we need to take from this recent article is that our work as parents and role models is not done once a teen gets an unrestricted license. Clear through high school and college, parents need to make sure safe driving habits are a frequent topic of conversation.

"Right now, we're not getting the net effect across all teens that we're hoping for," says the author of that study, Scott V. Masten, Ph.D.

The study was unable to pinpoint the exact cause for the increase in these traffic fatalities, but it may have to do with a form of "payback" for the restrictive stages of the GDL system. With restricted stages, these programs may have deprived younger drivers from a thorough driving experience as many of them have been delayed with getting their license. The author of the study says that in many cases, teens toss out the idea of restricted licensing and skip to their full-unrestricted license once they've turned 18.

"There's a belief that graduated licensing has led to a delay," says Anne McCartt, a senior vice president at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Studies of the GDL system have gone far beyond the effect of the restrictions and the stages on young drivers and are now focusing more on how to better protect and prepare drivers once they've received an unrestricted license.

North Carolina's GDL system:

Level 1:

-Must be at least 15-years-old.

-Must have completed the Driver Education course and passed a written test, signage test and an eye test.

-Must drive with the supervision of a parent or approved adult.

-Can only drive from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. for the first 6 months. Drivers are able to drive during any time after the first 6 months.

-Everyone in the vehicle is required to wear a seat belt.

-There can only be as many passengers as there are working seat belts.

-A driver is required to obtain this license for at least one year.

-The last 6 months of the stage must be violation-free to move on to Level 2.

Level 2:

-Must be at least 16-years-old.

-May drive unsupervised from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., but must be supervised the rest of the time.

-All occupants of the vehicle must wear a seat belt.

-The number of passengers must not exceed the number of working seat belts.

-A driver must spend at least 6 months in this stage and cannot advance to the next stage until completing 6 consecutive months of violation-free driving.

Level 3:

-A driver must be at least 16.5-years-old.

-Everyone in the vehicle must wear a seat belt.

-There can be no more passengers than there are seat belts.

In North Carolina, there were more than 200 teens killed because of traffic accidents in 2009. Many teen roadway fatalities can be avoided if we continue to press the issue of safe driving habits once a teen has completed the GDL program. No one is ever safe from a traffic accident.

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Fewer State OSHA Inspections Leave Employees at High Risk of Work Injuries in North Carolina

October 14, 2011, by

State officials conducted fewer work-safety inspections last year than at any time in the last 17 years. The Charlotte Observer reports the lessons of the 1991 chicken plant fire appear to be fading. The federal government's takeover of the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration all but forgotten. The deadly North Carolina work accident fading into history.

And in the 20 years since 25 people were killed in the Hamlet fire (they were locked in to prevent the theft of chicken nuggets and died struggling with the doors), the state agency's staff has not kept pace with the growth of the state's workforce.1300912_2010_live_burns_at_the_brayton_fire_fiels.jpg

Our Charlotte workers' compensation lawyers understand far too many employers get away with violating work safety rules. In the wake of the recent stories in the Charlotte Observer, the state makes excuses for the lack of accountability instead of acknowledging the shortcomings.

In fact, North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry would only address reporters' questions if they were submitted in writing.

"[T]here is no disputing [North Carolina] has made significant progress," she wrote. ". . . I can tell you workplaces are safer now."

Twenty-seven states, including North and South Carolina, run their own OSHA programs rather than being subjected to federal jurisdiction. The law requires these plans to be "at least as effective as federal OSHA." In a 2009 review, federal regulators made a dozen recommendations for improvements and found a host of problems, including:

-Incomplete case histories due to the purging of material.

-Insufficient responses to the concerns of complainants.

-Insufficient information given to families of fatality victims.

-Outdated case files.

-Misclassified violations or long delays in the issuing of violations.

-Penalties that are too low for serious violations.

-Improper handling of discrimination complaints.

The Sept. 3, 1991 fire occurred in the windowless brick building 70 miles east of Charlotte. A fire erupted after a ruptured hydraulic line spewed flammable fluid onto a deep fryer at the Imperial Food Products plant. The plant had never been inspected, despite being in operation for more than a decade.

In the wake of the tragedy, the state doubled its number of inspectors to 115. While the state still has among the largest workforce of inspectors in the nation, the numbers have been flat since 1993. Meanwhile, the state's workforce has increase by 19 percent. North Carolina OSHA conducted 4,500 inspections last year -- the fewest since 2001.

Newly released statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show 187 workers died in fires or explosions last year.

In all, 4,547 U.S. workers died last year -- virtually unchanged from the 4,551 who died in 2009. Transportation accidents accounted for more than one-third of the deaths (1,766), followed by assault, contact with objects or equipment, and fatal falls.

Fatal job accidents in North Carolina increased last year. A total of 134 employees lost their lives, compared to 129 in 2009. In South Carolina, 65 lost their lives, compared to the 73 who died in 2009.

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Trucking Accident in Columbus, North Carolina Causes Multi-Car Pileup

October 11, 2011, by

A recent trucking accident in Columbus, North Carolina closed the northbound lanes on Interstate 26 for a several hours. The accident happened when the driver of a semi-truck jumped out of the cab of his big rig. When he left the semi, it plowed through traffic causing a multi-car accident on the Interstate near mile marker 66, according to Fleet Owner.
After the trucker jumped from the big rig, it traveled for nearly a mile without a driver, crashed into a guardrail and finally stopped on the side of the road in some bushes, according to a North Carolina Highway Patrol spokesman.

Our Asheville trucking accident attorneys understand that accidents involving tractor-trailers are very dangers and oftentimes end fatally. These trucks carry so much weight and size that they can crush a passenger vehicle. These drivers are required to hold specific licenses and to obtain extensive trucking knowledge to operate these rigs safely. Motorists are asked to travel cautiously among these large vehicles. Defensive driving habits may be one of your best defenses against an accident with a tractor-trailer.

After the big rig came to a stop on the side of the road, another semi-truck crashed because of the debris that was scattered along the road from the initial accident. The driver of the second semi lost control of his vehicle, flipped over and hit a pickup, a van and a flatbed.

The drivers of both of the semis where flown to hospitals in the area while the passenger-vehicle drivers were taken to hospitals by EMS.

It has yet to be determined why the driver of the semi jumped out of the vehicle. Investigators are looking into the accident.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were nearly 3,500 fatalities resulting from trucking accidents in the U.S. in 2009. There were an additional 74,000 injuries resulting from these types of accidents. Roughly 300,000 trucks on U.S. roadways were involved in these accidents throughout the year. Nearly 100 large trucks were involved in fatal trucking accidents in Missouri in 2009. Occupants of the passenger vehicles involved in the accidents accounted for a majority of the injured and fatalities.

Fatalities resulting from trucking accidents in 2009:

-75 percent occurred to the occupants of another vehicle.

-10 percent occurred to those who were nonoccupants.

-15 percent occurred to the occupants of a large truck.

Injuries resulting from trucking accidents in 2009:

-74 percent occurred to the occupants of another vehicle.

-10 percent occurred to those who were nonoccupants.

-16 percent occurred to the occupants of a large truck.

Passenger-vehicle drivers are urged to be cautious when traveling near these large trucks. Be sure to stay out of their blind spots and remember to give them some distance. Never tailgate or cut off a tractor-trailer. A few simply safety steps can help to keep you and your loved ones safe when driving near large commercial vehicles.

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