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As Georgia faces the prospect of a winter storm this week, we also face the prospect of truck wrecks caused by violations of an important trucking safety rule. Last year, for example, a Georgia DOT spokesman was quoted saying that every major accident in Georgia’s “Snowmageddon 2014” ice storm involved a tractor trailer.
The safety rule throughout the United States is that trucking companies and their drivers are required to exercise “extreme caution” in conditions adversely affecting traction and visibility.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation 392.14 which provides that, “Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice … adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated.”
The practical interpretation of that rule, as expressed in the Commercial Driver’s License manuals of every state with only minor variations, state:
2.6.2 – Matching Speed to the Road Surface
You can’t steer or brake a vehicle unless you have traction. Traction is friction between the tires and the road. There are some road conditions that reduce traction and call for lower speeds.
Slippery Surfaces. It will take longer to stop, and it will be harder to turn without skidding, when the road is slippery. Wet roads can double stopping distance. You must drive slower to be able to stop in the same distance as on a dry road. Reduce speed by about one-third (e.g., slow from 55 to about 35 mph) on a wet road. On packed snow, reduce speed by a half, or more. If the surface is icy, reduce speed to a crawl and stop driving as soon as you can safely do so.
Identifying Slippery Surfaces. Sometimes it’s hard to know if the road is slippery. Here are some signs of slippery roads:
Shaded Areas. Shady parts of the road will remain icy and slippery long after open areas have melted.
Bridges. When the temperature drops, bridges will freeze before the road will. Be especially careful when the temperature is close to 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Melting Ice. Slight melting will make ice wet.
Wet ice is much more slippery than ice that is not wet.
Black Ice. Black ice is a thin layer that is clear enough that you can see the road underneath it. It makes the road look wet. Any time the temperature is below freezing and the road looks wet, watch out for black ice.
Vehicle Icing. An easy way to check for ice is to open the window and feel the front of the mirror, mirror support, or antenna. If there’s ice on these, the road surface is probably starting to ice up.
Unfortunately, too often trucking companies push their drivers to stay on schedule despite ice and snow. Too often police officers working wrecks are unfamiliar with the “extreme caution” rule requiring them to slow down, and seem to think truckers are heroic in efforts to stop 80,000 tractor trailers when driving at normal highway speeds on sheets of ice. But when bad things happen, we know how to hold accountable the trucking companies that refuse to require compliance with this important safety rule.
Ken Shigley is an Atlanta-based trial attorney practicing statewide in Georgia. A former president of the State Bar of Georgia, he is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice, a board certified civil trial attorney of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and chair-elect of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section.