Preventing 18-Wheeler Accidents with ITS Technologies

18-wheelers-150x132Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) offer added protection for truck drivers and for other drivers on the road. These integrated technologies allow near-instant communication between vehicles and their home bases and can provide added help for truckers in navigating unfamiliar areas. ITS implementations may even reduce the number of 18-wheeler accidents. With more than 400,000 crashes and 5,000 fatalities involving these large trucks annually in the U.S., the need for these advanced technologies is evident. For victims of trucking accidents, an 18 wheeler accidents attorney has experience in these cases and can provide solid representation and real help in obtaining the compensation necessary to treat injuries and recoup costs associated with the recovery process.

The Basics of ITS

In general, ITS technology provides added safeguards to improve highway safety. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) has sponsored research into a variety of methods for implementing intelligent transportation systems in current and future projects, including the following:

  • Integrated transportation communication systems that use wireless technology to provide valuable information to drivers and that track traffic and weather conditions on an ongoing basis
  • Construction methods that reduce the risk of rollover accidents by adjusting centrifugal forces on curves and ramps to promote a safer environment for all vehicles
  • Advanced weigh station technologies that can identify overloaded trucks on the highway and can reduce the incidence of overweight vehicles on the road
  • Snow and ice melting systems for dangerous or high-traffic areas
  • Fleet control systems that deliver information on speeds, locations and traffic safety directly from the 18-wheeler to the trucking company to allow for more efficient deployment of vehicles and greater control over their employees on and off the road

Many of these technologies are already in place and available to 18-wheeler drivers and the companies that employ them. As the DoT continues to implement these construction techniques, communication systems and weigh stations, drivers throughout Texas and across the country will enjoy greater safety on streets and highways.

Working toward Fewer Accidents

Additional technologies are available for installation directly into 18-wheelers that can reduce driver inattention, provide early warning of obstacles and accidents in the road ahead and that can alert drivers regarding signs of fatigue or drowsiness. By implementing these systems, trucking companies can help their employees stay focused on the road and can lower their own liability risk while protecting the safety of other drivers and passengers. Although new hours-of-service rules were put into effect in July 2013, drivers are still allowed to work 14-hour days and may be on the road for 11 of those hours. As a result, driver fatigue continues to be a factor in many 18-wheeler accidents.

Size and Weight Increase Risks

Improving 18-wheeler safety is of critical importance due to the size and weight of these vehicles. Fully loaded, a semi-trailer truck can weigh up to 20 tons and may take nearly twice as long to come to a complete stop compared with smaller vehicles. In a collision with a smaller car or truck, 18-wheelers typically cause catastrophic damage not only to the vehicle but also to the driver and passengers inside. Long recovery times are typical for victims of 18-wheeler accidents. In many cases, consulting a qualified truck accident lawyer in Texas can ensure a more positive outcome and can allow these victims to obtain adequate compensation for their injuries and losses.

ITS technologies offer new hope for reducing the number of semi-trailer truck accidents and improving conditions for all drivers on Texas roadways. For those who have been injured or who have lost a family member to an 18-wheeler crash, however, working with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney can provide added financial stability and can allow these individuals to hold trucking companies accountable for failing to implement safety measures for their fleets.

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Railroads Resistant to Adoption of Lifesaving PTC Technology

train-crossingEstablished technologies could provide added protection for railway workers and the communities through which freight trains travel. Positive train control (PTC) systems provide automated anti-collision features and can slow or stop trains to reduce the risk of crashes and derailments. These systems are designed to protect the safety of rail workers. For those injured in railroad accidents, the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) provides a mechanism for obtaining compensation and holding employers accountable for failing to protect workers. Retaining the services of a FELA injury lawyer can help injured employees receive the financial support necessary to manage their recovery and to handle any incidental expenses resulting from these events.

Proven Technology for Train Safety

Positive train control systems were first recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in 1970 after a 1969 head-on collision between two commuter trains in Connecticut resulted in four deaths and more than 40 injuries. The NTSB has put PTC systems on its Most Wanted Lists every year with no response from the train industry. Since 1970, numerous collisions, derailments and other accidents have caused death and destruction across the U.S. and Canada. In the opinion of safety experts, many of these tragic incidents could have been prevented if PTC systems had been implemented throughout the railroad industry.

Resistance from Railway Companies

However, the railroad industry has proven surprisingly resistant to the implementation of these systems. Some factors in this lack of response by rail companies include the following:

  • Cost issues for installation, implementation and training
  • The need for consistent standards applicable across the industry
  • Designation and availability of radio channels needed for PTC implementation

The NTSB has been active in working to eliminate these obstacles and has held forums intended to bring industry leaders together to identify solutions. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires the implementation of PTC systems for all trains carrying hazardous, toxic or flammable materials by 2015. To date, however, only a fraction of train lines that meet these criteria have announced their readiness to comply with these federal requirements.

New Risks Add to Urgency

Recent train accidents and derailments involving oil transport have increased governmental scrutiny of the railroad industry. Oil train accidents have caused serious environmental damage and have resulted in numerous deaths and injuries in recent years:

  • The Lac-Mégantic derailment on July 6, 2013, killed 47 people and destroyed 30 buildings in the downtown area of the community.
  • More than 400,000 gallons of oil were spilled and numerous residents were evacuated after two trains collided and 18 train cars exploded in Casselton, North Dakota, on December 30, 2013.
  • On November 8, 2013, Aliceville, Alabama, was the scene of a derailment and explosion that spilled oil into the wetlands and continues to contaminate the area surrounding the crash site.

The number of tanker cars currently transporting oil in the U.S. amounts to forty times the number in use in 2008. These figures are expected to rise even higher over the next decade. The sudden increase in oil transport is due in large part to the drilling operations in the Bakken oilfields of North and South Dakota. PTC systems are needed to prevent accidents and reduce risks to the public and to the workers who perform their duties on these trains.

For employees who have been injured in a FELA railroad accident, seeking compensation can provide valuable closure and financial resources with which to manage the recovery process. Consulting a qualified railroad worker injury lawyer to pursue injury claims can provide added help in dealing with regulatory requirements and managing courtroom proceedings effectively. By holding railroad companies accountable for their failure to implement PTC systems, injured train workers can help to promote change within the industry and to prevent further accidents in the future.

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New Oil Train and Pipeline Safety Laws Passed by 2 States

black-tankerIn the wake of numerous major and minor oil train accidents across the U.S. and Canada, some states are passing legislation to establish stricter rules regarding railway freight. Both New Hampshire and Minnesota have enacted new regulations governing the transport of oil within their borders, and other states are poised to follow suit in the near future. These regulations will supplement existing federal laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Transportation. For railway workers injured in the course of their duties, however, the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) remains the most effective form of legal protection. Consulting a FELA claim lawyer can ensure that workers receive appropriate compensation for their injuries on the job. A qualified and experienced train accident attorney can negotiate the highest settlement and can ensure that these workers receive the financial support needed to manage medical bills and other ongoing expenses.

Changes to Minnesota Law

Minnesota’s new regulations regarding oil train traffic went into effect on July 1, 2014, and set new inspection and oversight requirements while requiring additional fees and proactive safety planning from railway companies that transport oil within the state:

  • Railway companies must submit disaster prevention plans and emergency response plans to the state of Minnesota.
  • Railroads must also provide funding and support for emergency response training programs to be offered to fire departments located along rail lines once every three years; the Minnesota Department of Public Safety will also provide training for first responders along these routes.
  • Rail companies must maintain and deploy adequate equipment to clean up any oil spills within a relatively short period of time.
  • Minnesota’s Department of Transportation will increase the number of railroad inspectors and will pass the costs of these new employees on to the rail companies that operate within the state.

These changes will shift much of the burden for maintaining safety and ensuring that emergency response plans are in place to rail companies and will allow for increased oversight for Minnesota rail companies.

New Laws in New Hampshire

In July 2014, Governor Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire signed a bill into law that will provide funding for added oil spill emergency response training and will require pipeline facilities to provide spill response plans to the state for review. Additionally, a second bill passed by the New Hampshire Legislature and signed by the governor establishes a committee to research safer ways to deliver oil and gas within the state by rail or pipeline. These new measures are intended to provide added protections for New Hampshire residents against the dangers inherent in the transport of crude oil and natural gas.

High Risk for Workers and Communities

The new legislation was prompted in part by a series of oil train derailments and pipeline spills that have resulted in lost lives and extensive property damage over the past few years. The worst of these accidents occurred in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013, when an unattended train loaded with oil derailed, claiming 47 lives and destroying the downtown area of this small community. Other recent oil train accidents and pipeline spills include the following:

  • On April 30, 2014, an oil train derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia, causing a fire and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents and workers in and around the downtown area.
  • The rupture of a pipeline located near Marshall, Michigan, on July 25, 2010, released more than 870,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into Talmadge Creek and subsequently into the Kalamazoo River.
  • The swamps surrounding Aliceville, Alabama, still show signs of the derailment, explosion and oil spill that occurred on November 8, 2013, despite the clean-up performed by the Genesee & Wyoming railway company.

For workers who have been injured in one of these catastrophic incidents, seeking the help of a qualified railroad accident attorney can ensure a fair settlement for their injury claims. A knowledgeable FELA claim lawyer can help railway workers receive fair compensation for injuries incurred on the job and can ensure that railroad companies are held accountable for their failure to protect their employees against harm.

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Texas Leads Nation in 18-Wheeler Fatality Accidents

Truck-on-sideSemi-trailer trucks made up less than four percent of all vehicles on the road in 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). During that same year, however, large trucks were involved in eight percent of all U.S. fatality crashes. The state of Texas reported the highest number of fatality accidents involving trucks during 2012 and accounted for 11 percent of all truck crash fatalities throughout the U.S. In nearly all cases, drivers and passengers of the smaller cars and trucks involved in these accidents suffer more serious injuries due to disparities in the size and weight of the respective vehicles. For victims and their families, retaining the services of qualified 18-wheeler accident lawyers can provide valuable support in obtaining appropriate compensation from insurers and trucking companies for injuries and wrongful death events.

Risk Factors for 18-Wheeler Trucks

Large trucks represent a much greater risk on the road than passenger vehicles, especially when they are carrying full loads of cargo:

  • Semi-trailer trucks routinely haul 22 tons of weight or more on Texas streets and highways. This weight can crush and mangle smaller vehicles and can cause catastrophic injuries to passengers in those vehicles in the event of a crash.
  • Speed limits on Texas highways range between 75 and 85 miles per hour. Trucks traveling at this speed may have extreme difficulty in stopping quickly.
  • Truck drivers may be asked to maintain difficult schedules and may experience fatigue after long hours on the road. This can lead to reduced attention and can be a contributing factor in some accidents involving 18-wheeler vehicles.
  • Some companies may fail to perform regular required maintenance on their vehicles. This neglect can sometimes result in brake failures and other lapses in safety.
  • Loads that exceed the allowable weight limits can also play a significant role in causing drivers to lose control of their 18-wheeler vehicles and may result in fatalities on the road.

NHTSA statistics for 2012 indicate that multiple-vehicle crashes accounted for 81 percent of all fatal crashes involving a semi-trailer truck. The figures also show that passengers and drivers of smaller vehicles make up nearly 75 percent of the fatalities incurred and are far more likely to sustain serious injuries in 18-wheeler accidents.

Danger for Houston Drivers

According to figures released by Houston TranStar, nine people lost their lives in freeway accidents involving large trucks between January and May of 2014; this compares to 10 fatalities in truck-related accidents throughout 2013. Houston 18-wheeler accidents have shut down major transportation routes through and around the metropolitan area. In some cases, hazardous materials carried by these large trucks have spilled, creating the need for an extensive cleanup process and causing even greater congestion on Houston streets. Efforts are underway to reduce clean-up times, but the risks associated with 18-wheelers continue to create issues for drivers in Houston and the surrounding areas.

Holding Drivers and Trucking Companies Accountable

For injured victims and for families left behind after a semi-trailer truck crash, finding a qualified and knowledgeable truck accident attorney in Texas can provide support and help in obtaining fair compensation for injuries and losses. By working with a Houston 18-wheeler accident attorney, families and injured parties can hold trucking firms and negligent drivers responsible for their actions. By taking these individuals and companies to court, victims and families can achieve closure and can receive the settlement funds necessary to manage ongoing expenses and financial needs.

Practicing safe driving habits on Texas streets and highways can provide valuable protection against most accidents. When collisions do occur, however, retaining the services of a qualified 18-wheeler attorney can help to even the playing field for victims of these Texas truck accidents and can ensure a more positive outcome throughout the legal process.

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DOT Finds U.S. Railroads Woefully Underinsured Against Accidents

red-engineRecent analysis by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) indicates that most railroad companies are seriously underinsured against potential damage and destruction due to oil train derailments or other accidents. The DOT report was released on August 1, 2014, at the same time as the DOT’s release of a list of proposed rule changes intended to increase safety and reduce the risk of accidents in the rail industry. Dangerous and deadly train derailments and collisions have reached a critical level in the U.S. and Canada. Establishing guidelines for appropriate insurance levels is critical to ensure that those harmed by the negligence of the railway companies can receive the settlements to which they are rightfully entitled. The U.S. Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) offers protection for individuals who are injured in the course of their duties with railway companies. FELA railroad injury accident lawyers can help injured workers obtain compensation for their medical expenses and damages while holding railroad companies accountable for their failure to protect the safety of their employees.

Serious Shortfalls in Insurance Funding

According to figures released by the Association of American Railroads in December 2013, more than 400,000 carloads of oil were transported by train last year. This is a significant increase over the 9,500 carloads transported in the U.S. in 2008. The increased risks associated with transporting oil by train have already been felt by a number of communities in the U.S. and Canada:

  • The Lac-Megantic derailment and explosion on July 5, 2013, took the lives of 47 people and resulted in clean-up costs of more than $180 million. When loss of life and damages to property are factored into the equation, the cost is likely to exceed $400 million by a considerable margin. Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, the company responsible for this tragic accident, carried just $25 million in insurance to cover its liabilities and filed for bankruptcy in August 2013.
  • The official cleanup effort has been completed in the November 9, 2013 derailment of a tanker train carrying 2.7 million gallons of oil in rural Aliceville, Alabama; however, environmentalists in the area still report seeing oil in the water near the site of the accident. While some oil burned at the time of the crash and remediation efforts removed more than 210,000 gallons of oil from the swamps surrounding the site, it is feared that the bulk of the oil spill continues to contaminate this sensitive ecosystem. The full cost of the Aliceville derailment may take months or years to ascertain.
  • On December 30, 2013, a collision between two trains in Casselton, North Dakota, resulted in the spill of more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil and prompted the evacuation of nearby residents. Cleanup is still underway, but the BNSF Railway Company has indicated it will not release the cost of the cleanup to the public.

According to figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation, most railway companies maintain approximately $50 million in insurance. Most industry experts believe that this coverage level is unrealistically low, especially for railroads that routinely carry oil shipments in the U.S. and Canada. Current insurance coverage amounts top out at $1 billion. For serious accidents involving major property damage and extensive loss of life, even this maximum amount may not be sufficient to cover costs and ensure proper clean-up.

For employees who have been injured due to the negligence or oversight of railway companies, enlisting the professional services of a FELA injury lawyer can provide valuable support in obtaining a fair settlement from these powerful firms. FELA railroad accident attorneys are well-versed in the regulations governing safety in the workplace and can provide workers with the best possible representation in negotiating compensation for injuries and wrongful death claims. These legal professionals can also provide closure for employees and families and can provide a valuable financial incentive for railroad companies to institute improved safety practices in the future.

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