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ATA Prepares To Fight Outsized Legal Awards Against Truckers

FreightWaves

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) is gearing up to fight against multimillion-dollar legal awards against truckers and their employers who are not at fault but blamed in many car-truck crashes.

"We're fed up," ATA President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Spear told members October 7 at the association's Management Conference & Exhibition in San Diego. "I'm sick of playing defense while trial lawyers buy jets and yachts at the expense of trucking jobs. These ‘nuclear' verdicts are strangling our industry."

Two-thirds of the accidents involving trucks are caused by passenger vehicles, Spear said.

"If a car going the opposite direction veers out of control, crosses the median and crashes into a truck going 25 mph below the speed limit and is brought to a controlled stop after the collision, you shouldn't have to pay $90 million for a tragedy your driver didn't cause!"

Yet the number of trucking fatalities through 2017 was a 29-year high, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Speeding and failure to wear seat belts contributed to deaths in many of the crashes, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

A weed problem

The legalization of marijuana in 11 states, Washington, D.C. and Canada could be the next cudgel used against truckers, Spear said.

"You can just see the trial lawyers – sitting on the edge of their high, wing-back leather chairs – drooling over the thought of more legal ambiguity," Spear said in his speech. "We can't just sit back and hand them yet another opportunity to litigate our industry."

The association scheduled the initial meeting of its Controlled Substances, Health and Wellness Subcommittee during the convention. The goal, Spear said, is creating a trucking-led policy platform that helps lawmakers and regulators make informed decisions about the impact of substance abuse on safety and interstate commerce.

The ATA also will continue to press federal agencies to allow hair follicle testing in place of urine testing for drug use and have those results included in the FMCSA's commercial driver's license Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse that begins operating in January 2020. The database will contain information on violations of the controlled substances and alcohol testing program.  

By the numbers

The U.S. trucking industry spends more than $10 billion each year on safety, including technology, training and compliance "all part of a concerted effort to save lives, not our bottom line," Spear said.

Trucking employment exceeds 7.8 million people or one in 16 jobs in the U.S. Trucks move more than 71% of domestic freight.
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