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Lombardi Law Firm

Car and Tractor Trailer Accidents

Highway Workers are at risk of being killed while repairing the nations roads - be careful.

The U.S. trucking industry is huge.  It employs over 9 million Americans and generates approximately $255.5 billion in revenue.  It is a necessary and viable part of the economy, since many businesses—from grocery stores to office suppliers—rely on tractor trailers to transport their goods from warehouses to stores and across the country.  In 2005, there were 8,481,999 large trucks on the roads, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  136,568,000 passenger cars and 6,227,000 motorcycles simultaneously occupied the highways (Bureau of Transportation Statistics).  

This vital transportation comes with a significant cost:  accidents, accidents, and more accidents.  Finding room for tractor trailers and passenger vehicles to share the road is difficult and often dangerous.  In 2005, there were 4,533 fatal crashes involving large trucks, not to mention 78,000 nonfatal crashes. Although all vehicles on the road must obey the same rules, truck drivers face several significant disadvantages:  wider turn radiuses, larger blind spots and slower acceleration times.  Drivers also face problems with fatigue, grueling delivery schedules, overloaded shipments, the potential for a heavy load to become unbalanced, and other drivers’ impatience with tractor trailers on highways.

Because of a tractor trailer’s size and weight, the potential for causing damage to everyone involved in an accident—especially those in a much-smaller car—is great.  Injuries can be relatively common (bruising, lacerations, sprains, or fractures) or very severe (internal bleeding, damage to organs, whiplash, brain injury, spinal cord injury, loss of limb, or death).  These injuries can certainly cause some long-lasting mental and physical trauma.  Just as importantly, however, they can affect your relationships with your family and friends, especially as you face the added burden of financial concerns, insurance claims, lost pay, and potentially life-long medical problems.

Tractor trailer drivers recommend that, when cars have to share the road with big trucks, the car drivers follow a few simple rules:  don’t cut off the tractor trailer, since big trucks require a lot more room than cars to stop; be courteous and don’t try to race past a truck with its blinkers on; don’t drive alongside the truck, especially if you run the risk of disappearing in the truck driver’s blind spot.  Although most accidents are caused by the commercial driver, a significant number of these accidents occur because driving a truck makes it difficult to fully see the surroundings and because many passenger vehicle drivers fail to respect the truck’s right to drive on the roads. Remember being courteous is a two-way street.

According to a report issued by the Pacific Institute in December 2006, “Unit Costs of Medium and Heavy Truck Crashes,” the estimated cost of a crash with a tractor trailer weighing more than 10,000 pounds averaged $91,112; costs (assessed for the duration of the victim’s life) included medical bills, emergency service costs, property damage costs, and a monetary assessment of pain, suffering, and quality of life for the family due to a death or injury.  Chances are very good that your insurance company will fall short of helping you recover everything owed to you because insurance companies don’t represent you and when they are talking to you they are thinking of how to get out of paying you or how to pay you what you deserve to be paid.

Police work often times endangers the officer and the other drivers



That’s why it’s important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible after a crash or wreck.  If you are injured in an accident involving a tractor trailer along the highways of central Iowa, Steve Lombardi of the Lombardi Law Firm in Des Moines can help you handle these troubling times.  With 26 years of experience behind him, he is well-equipped to navigate the court system and fight the insurance companies that want to pay as little as possible on your claim.  With Steve Lombardi on your side, you will be well cared for and will recoup as much of your losses as possible.  Call 515.222.1110 for a free consultation.

Whenever a potential client calls with a wrong-way turn collision I ask myself a question. Was it booze or drugs, old age, sign pollution, improper sign wording, a language issue, a lighting issue, being in a hurry, being distracted or just inattentiveness that causes someone to turn the wrong way? I’m not talking about falling asleep or a sudden medical condition or any of the causes that makes someone simply cross the center line on an undivided highway. I’m talking about a divided highway where a person turns left immediately rather than continue across the median strip before turning.

More often than I like to recall there is another accident where two or more cars collide with one driving the wrong way on the Interstate. Our highways here in Iowa are I- 80, I-235 and I-35. In the recent past there have been wrong-way collisions in Richmond, California, Salem, Oregon and Iowa on I-80.

Like running a stop sign this issue has come up a few times in my practice and it has always puzzled me. You would think no one would purposefully turn and drive the wrong way against traffic, but a few do to avoid long traffic lines. There is nothing we can do about the drunks and those who purposefully ignore how risky a practice it is. But what about the others? Lawyers are citizens first and if there is something about the rules of the road that can be changed to avoid accidents we would like to act. That’s really why most of us attended law school; to make the world a better place.

A Persistent Problem

Driving the wrong way on freeways has been a nagging traffic safety problem since the interstate highway system was founded in the late 1950s. Despite four decades of highway striping and sign improvements at freeway interchanges, the problem persists.

"Studies, such as those performed by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), show the vast majority of wrong-way drivers correct their mistakes before causing a crash by simply turning around and heading in the right direction. But for unknown reasons some drivers, even when sober, head straight into oncoming traffic with devastating consequences.

On average about 350 people are killed each year nationwide in wrong-way freeway crashes, according to an analysis by retired FHWA traffic engineer Dennis Eckhart using the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatal Accident Reporting System. The 350 figure covers those killed on divided highways, including driving the wrong way on one-way traffic ways such as freeway ramps. From 1996 through 2000, 1,753 people died in wrong-way crashes on the Nation's freeways, according to Eckhart's analysis. Thousands more are injured. In the four-county area where Klotz was killed King, Snohomish, Skagit, and Whatcom counties—136 wrong-way crashes between 1997 and 2000 resulted in 81 injuries and nine fatalities.

While there are safety programs exclusively for rail crossings and work zones," says Eckhart, "I am not aware of any national-level program to combat the wrong-way problem. However, at the State level, some States such as California do have a wrong-way prevention program that funds safety improvements." State departments of transportation (DOT) across the country have taken additional measures to improve ramp designs, signage, and striping to prevent wrong-way incidents. Other States are experimenting with intelligent transportation system (ITS) technology to address the problem.”

If the issue is intoxication or simply a refusal to follow the rules-of-the-road then there is little we can do but to punish and punish severely. This is a judge’s sentencing discretionary function; something we should bring back from earlier years. If it’s the sign and the words used then it should be somewhat obvious from what the drivers tell us. And in that instance the DOT needs to correct the problem. If it’s sign pollution, with too many signs causing driver confusion, then the DOT and municipalities need to act by restricting signs. If the issue is the soccer Mom syndrome with rushing around to too many places while talking on the cell phone while the kids watch a movie on the DVD player, then it’s the driver’s fault for doing too many things and being distracted. Same goes for the teenager who is too busy texting to pay attention to the traffic conditions. Old age is just a natural condition of living long enough that human capital wears out. That’s a licensing issue for the DOT.

One possible solution to the ghost drivers…

Germany came up with an interesting solution used on the autobahn. They call the ghost drivers who trigger a radio announcement that interrupts your radio to warn you.

Perhaps the best solution would be to follow Germany’s model:

"Wrong-way drivers on the autobahn ("ghost drivers") trigger a radio announcement that interrupts whatever you’re listening to, warning you of the situation and that car’s approximate location. That way, you can pull off onto the shoulder and keep a close eye out for someone coming from the opposite direction at well over 100 mph on your side of the road.”

Geister Fahrer - Translates from German into "Ghost Driver;" a driver who drives on the wrong direction on an autobahn, often with headlights turned off at night. Usually a drunk driver but can also be a thrill seeker, suicide attempt, or horrendous driver error.
That’s an interesting idea but I wonder how the use of iPods and CD players has affected the success rate of the German solution? Perhaps motion detectors that flash warning lights towards the offending driver would signal their mistake and warn those coming head on. The U.S. military along with law enforcement must have some type of motion detector that could be modified and transformed into a wrong-way surveillance device.
Steve Lombardi
Iowa civil trial, workers' compensation and personal injury lawyer