Cutting corners will ultimately cost more lives
As a trial lawyer, I’ve seen too many cases where the wellbeing of others is compromised for the sake of doing business.
That’s especially true when it comes to the U.S. trucking industry, which faces numerous lawsuits every year related to negligence, including a systemic failure to shell out for basic safety standards.
What’s ironic is that this penny-pinching approach is the same approach costing the trucking industry millions of dollars in personal injury and wrongful death claims. The industry apparently would rather accept the risk of pricey lawsuits than pay for marginal improvements, while other countries (like Canada and the U.K.) pass safer laws and enact better proposals to protect their citizens—including truck drivers—from preventable disasters. For those of us living in the U.S., it’s becoming harder to ignore how fast our peers have outpaced us.
Dating back to 2005, the U.S. trucking industry has favored a market-driven model to promote commerce. That’s in stark contrast to the Europeans, who have gone as far as to implement speed detection systems to keep drivers honest. Perhaps more striking is Europe, unlike the U.S., tries to promote a healthy working environment (better hours, less emphasis on associating a paycheck with the number of hours spent on the road), rather than the pressures of a corporate time crunch.
Now let’s look at the U.S.: The trucking industry has flirted with the idea of lowering restrictions (like allowing 18-year olds to drive big-rigs within state borders and increasing weight limits for large trucks) or endorsed modest safety proposals that move up the bureaucratic chain of command at a snail’s pace. One of those things is installing side underride guard rails, which have been a point of contention between the trucking lobby and safety advocates for years.
Writer Paul Feldman of FairWarning explored this in an article titled “Critics Say Underride Fix Will Do Little to Curb Deadly Hazard.” Feldman called side underride crashes “among the most horrific collisions on the road,” yet any effort to curb those collisions has been overlooked or ignored domestically.
Feldman went on to explain how a new proposal for underride guards, recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, essentially replaces a 20-year-old standard with a 10-year-old Canadian standard. The NHTSA justified its reasoning by citing low-loss-of-life in relation to the cost of outfitting or retrofitting trucks with side underride guards.
That correlation rings like a shallow justification of Reagan era policies, as Feldman notes, that favors economic benefits over the value of safety. Try explaining that to a family that’s lost a child, or someone with terminal injuries. We need to get ahead of the curve, not just keep up.
I sit on the American Association for Justice Side Underride Guard Task Force. I recently returned from a trip to England as part of an investigation into the safety practices of the U.K trucking industry. My colleagues and I were shocked to learn how far we have to go before we catch up to our British counterparts. Some of those things include a comprehensive certification process for underride guards, additional training for drivers, outfitting old trucks with new safety features, and a national awards program/incentives that encourages safe driving.
All of this is low-hanging fruit. We need to start picking before it goes bad.