Friday afternoon about 2 pm, I nearly became a statistic in the kind of trucking accident case that I see too often as a lawyer.

Leaving Atlanta for the weekend with my wife, we were on I-285 approaching I-85 at "Spaghetti Junction" when traffic in our lane designated for I-85 North ground to a halt. I had been sitting there for maybe 15 to 30 seconds, about a car length behind a tractor trailer with my hazard flashers on to alert drivers behind me.  Having seen so many cases of rear end collisions when freeway traffic stalls, I always hit the hazard flasher button in these situations.  I know we were sitting there long enough to wonder why just our late was stopped, read the writing on the back of the trailer in front, and to note that it had the older style of rear underride bar

Then I heard tires screeching.  Looking in my rear view mirror I saw a tractor trailer with tires smoking, angling from my lane into the lane to my right.

Conservatively estimating the speed of the flow of traffic before the stoppage at 40 miles per hour and the time I had been stopped at 15 seconds, the trucker behind me would have traveled 879 feet – nearly the length of three football fields — with a clear view of traffic stopped and my flashing hazard lights, before he stopped inches from my rear bumper.

Fortunately, he was able to stop.  But not before the image of a car pushed through the rear underride bar of a trailer in front flashed through my mind. That’s not how I want to die.

Was the truck driver behind me fatigued, inattentive, or both? Was he in the 11th hour or more of driving that day?  Fortunately, no one will have occasion to ask. And fortunately, there will be no occasion for the surviving truck driver to falsely claim that the person he killed had suddenly slammed on brakes without warning, hoping that no accident reconstruction would prove otherwise.

A fatal collision on December 19th between two tractor trailers in Pike County, Alabama, may result in criminal charges against the driver of one of the tractor trailers. According to media reports, Dusty Conner failed to stop his tractor trailer at a stop sign and pulled out in front of another tractor trailer operated by Deborah Fields.  According to media reports, she was killed when her truck caught fire.

Ironically, we are preparing for a trial in Alabama of a case in which two tractor trailers collided on a rainy night, and a passenger in a tractor that caught fire was killed.


A Greyhound bus and a tractor-trailer collided Wednesday near Henderson, NC.  The bus plunged down an embankment and overturned, injuring at least 29 people.  The bus was traveling from Richmond, Va., to Raleigh on U.S. 1 when it collided with the tractor-trailer as a tractor-trailer ahead of it made a turn and the bus failed to slow down.  The bus ran off the shoulder and down an embankment before it overturned.   

In yet another crash that highlights the lack of inadequacy of bus safety standards, two people were killed and two critically injured Saturday evening after a small charter bus hit a median wall and utility poles on I-85 southbound between the Monroe Drive and Buford Highway exits.  Two occupants were thrown from the bus into the northbound HOV lane.  The bus was operated by Greene Classic Limousines, which has a fleet of 46 vehicles.

Reportedly the there was a mechanical failure in the steering of the bus. News reports have not identified the make or model of the bus or why the occupants were ejected. However, this is the second bus crash on Atlanta freeways this year.  The crash on March 2 of a chartered tour bus carrying the Bluffton University baseball team focused attention on peculiar road design and omitted signs,  as well as the lack of seat belts and safety glass in buses in the United States.  (I represent several of the Bluffton players.) 

It is unlikely that any passengers on the Bluffton bus would have been ejected and killed if there had been passenger seat belts and safety glass in side windows, as are required in Europe and Australia.  If the same bus were purchased in virtually any country other than the US, it would have been so equipped.  In that case, a web search located an identical bus for sale in Turkey 3-point seat belts at all passenger positions, but due to federal regulations that give license to unsafe design, passenger seat belts are not standard equipment on buses in the US.  Recently I learned, however, that some tour bus companies have retrofitted full size motor coaches with seat belts for as little as $900 per bus. 

There is no legitimate safety reason for omitting from buses the seat belts and safety glass that would prevent passenger ejection. Similar bus wrecks in other countries, where buses have such safety equipment, have resulted in all passengers emerging with no serious injuries. About the only substantive defense for bus manufacturers in these cases is the preemption defense, by which their lobbying of federal agencies may shield them from accountability to the families of those who are injured and killed.  The federal regulations on bus safety are silent on these points, so lawyers in a pending case in Texas have what should be a good argument against preemption.