“Sweat shops on wheels” increase safety hazards
Recent articles in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune critique the causes of safety problems in the current trucking industry. Much of the focus of the Chicago Tribune article is on the Bush Administration’s decision to increase the permissible driving hours and working hours for truck drivers. The New York Times article digs a little deeper, going back to the deregulation of the trucking industry in the 1980’s. Most truckers are now paid by the mile or the trip so that the time they spend waiting to be loaded or unloaded or doing maintenance unpaid. Counting all their time on the job, some earn as little as $8 an hour., often with no medical insurance or pension plan.
According to John Siebert, an official with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, his review of members’ obituaries revealed their average age at death was 55 and a high rate of suicide. Surveys of truck drivers reveal 90% are overweight and nearly two-thirds expect to rely solely upon Social Security when they retire. Under extreme scheduling pressure from shippers and trucking companies as well as financial stress, they sacrifice physical needs including sleep in order to work 100 to 120 hours per week.
According to Mike Belzer, a one-time Chicago trucker and now a Wayne State University professor and trucking industry expert, ever since deregulation it has been a "race to the bottom" in the trucking industry. Truckers’ income, adjusted for inflation, has dropped steadily as the market has been flooded with new companies, new drivers, and pressures from shippers and manufacturers to keep freight costs down. The number of interstate trucking companies went from 20,000 to 564,000, with nearly 90% operating six trucks or less, a highly fragmented industry with thin profit margins.
For more, see the Confined Space blog.
All this is consistent with my own observations, both in investigations and depositions of truck drivers whose fatigue contributed to tragic incidents, and in interviews with truck driver clients and witnesses. I’ve heard truck drivers describe incidents of being required to complete trips by a deadline even though the shippers loaded the trailers several hours late, under circumstances where they could not possibly get the legally required rest and still deliver by their deadlines. I’ve seen too many instances of truckers napping an hour in a cab between nation-crossing trips that result in them driving 20 out of 24 hours. The risks to their health and to public safety are all too obvious.
– Ken Shigley
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.