Our sincere condolences goes out to the family and friends of Joseph Grzeca. The day before yesterday Joseph was killed when a semi driver ran a red light on U.S. 301 near Summerfield, Florida and T-boned a pickup. And then yesterday a Peterbuilt semi jack-knifed on I-75 closing it down for hours. FHP stated that the driver “failed to drive in a safe and prudent manner”. As an accident and injury attorney and a board member of the Association of Plaintiff Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America (APITLA), a national association of committed lawyers who have joined together to help eliminate unsafe and illegal interstate trucking practices, I am especially saddened and upset when this happens in my own community.
While large trucks make up less than 4% of all vehicles on US roadways, they account for over 12% of all traffic fatalities and this number has risen steadily since 2009. Why is that? It can be a number of reasons; negligent maintenance of trucks, unqualified truck drivers, unsafe management practices of trucking companies, but the truth is the number one safety problem in the interstate trucking industry for the last 30 years has remained the same: fatigued truck drivers.
Even little Ronshay Dugans (pictured above), and her family’s best efforts, could not save Joseph Grzeca. On Sept. 5, 2008, a school bus that belonged to a Boys and Girls Club was stopped in broad daylight when a cement truck plowed into the back of it in Tallahassee, Florida. Eight-year-old Ronshay Dugans was killed. The truck driver was reportedly drowsy when he got behind the wheel. Ronshay’s family worked tirelessly to get Florida’s legislation to pass a law that officially recognized that driving while fatigued is as dangerous as driving while under the influence and declaring the first week in September “Drowsy Driving Prevention Week”. During this week, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the Department of Transportation are encouraged to educate the law enforcement community and the public about the relationship between fatigue and performance and the research showing fatigue to be as much of an impairment as alcohol and as dangerous while operating a motor vehicle.
If you think driving drowsy is no big deal, listen to Leroy Smith’s view on the issue. Smith is a former official with the Florida Highway Patrol. “It is just as dangerous as drunk driving; just as alcohol and drugs could impair one’s normal faculties, so could sleeplessness and drowsiness. It could also slow one’s reaction time,” Smith reported to 10 News in 2010.
What is even more upsetting to me is that since the enactment of the Ronshay Duggans Act in 2011, I have deposed many law enforcement officers who were in charge of investigating large truck related fatal accidents and they never heard of the Ronshay-Dugans Act! Additionally, they failed to investigate the medical conditions, dispatch patterns, or any other risk factors related to fatigue driving of the truck driver. If the log books looked in order and the toxicology screen came back negative there was no further investigation into the issue of whether trucker fatigue played a role in the fatal crash. While drowsy driving may initially be difficult to detect, you can look at the facts of a case and, in retrospect, fatigue is the only explanation for the actions or inactions of the truck driver the moments before and after a fatal crash.
If a friend or relative is involved in a fatal or catastrophic truck accident, act quickly to get the advice and protection of an accident attorney with experience in investigating and litigating claims against trucking companies. Time is of the essence as critical evidence, such as event data recorders, dispatch records and on-board video tapes can be lost or destroyed if not preserved through prompt legal action. These are businesses that don’t make money unless they “keep the wheels rolling” and don’t want to be slowed down or saddled with what the media would describe as “frivolous claims”.
To all the safe trucking companies and truckers out there, I thank you for doing your part in keeping our roads safe for all of us. To those unsafe trucking companies and truckers, please change your ways and follow the rules and regulations that are already in place. They may save your life as well as others. But if you injure or kill someone because of your unsafe practices and I’m hired on the case, you better believe that I’m coming after you with everything I’ve got. Be safe out there!