Indiana Family Starts Petition Urging Criminal Charges Against Truck Driver Responsible For Death Of Seven Family Members

In 2015, 4,067 people were killed in large truck crashes in the United States

Indiana Family Starts Petition Urging Criminal Charges Against Truck Driver Responsible For Death Of Seven Family Members

September 30, 2014 – As his family prepared to mark the one-year anniversary of the truck crash that killed seven members of his family, Gerald Williams suffered another heartbreak when he learned that Christine Haskell, the Prosecuting Attorney for Jasper County, Indiana, had decided not to press criminal charges on the truck driver responsible for the crash.  Given the extreme loss and the discovery of several potential violations and safety issues, including fatigue and speed, which may have contributed to the fatal crash, the possibility that no charges would be filed had not been considered by the family. Williams, the father of Lindsey and Yvette Williams and grandfather of Yazmin and Arielle Goldman and Jamin and Jazmin Osborne, decided to start a petition urging Haskell to reconsider her decision. The petition has already accrued more than 1,700 signatures and Williams is hopeful that support will continue.

“I am overwhelmed by the support that we’ve received for the petition,” said Williams, a former truck driver. “And I hope that many more folks will sign on to join our family’s appeal for justice. It’s validating to know that so many people are as outraged as we are that no charges have been filed, and that they stand with us in our belief that  justice should be served. Nothing will bring back my girls and my grandchildren, but I’m going to do everything I can to ensure that no other family has to experience the catastrophic loss that my family and I have suffered, and will have to endure for the rest of our lives.”

On August 15, 2013, a semi-truck rear-ended an SUV containing seven members of the extended Williams family in Jasper County, Indiana. The crash occurred after the family’s vehicle stopped in traffic while approaching a work zone. The initial impact pushed their vehicle into another semi ahead of them, causing the SUV to burst into flames and killing Lindsey Williams, 27, and her two children, Yazmin Goldman, 5, and Arielle Goldman, 3, Lindsay’s sister, Yvette Williams, 35, and her two children, Jamin Osborne, 5, and Jazmin Osborne, 7, and the Williams sisters’ Uncle, Amado Mangual, 49.

The Williams point to the fact that there were no skid marks on the road after the crash, which indicates that the driver failed to slow down or brake before colliding with the family’s vehicle. This led the Williams family to consider that the truck driver was inattentive and possibly fatigued at the time of the crash. Truck driver fatigue has been an industry-wide health and safety issue for over 70 years. A 2006 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study revealed that 65 percent of truck drivers reported they often or sometimes feel drowsy while driving and nearly half admitted they fell asleep while driving in the previous year. Fatigue continues to be a major contributor to the unacceptably high number of yearly truck crashes and the resulting fatalities and injuries. From 2009 to 2012, truck crash fatalities increased by 16 percent, and truck crash injuries increased by 40 percent, resulting in 104,000 injuries in 2012.

It is also believed that the semi-truck hit the family’s vehicle at Interstate speeds, and that the driver had not reduced his speed as it was required and posted in the work zone where the crash occurred. The truck driver had a history of prior speeding violations, at least five since 2006. Trucks are over represented in fatal highway crashes and even more so in work zone fatal crashes, like in the Williams family’s case. Although trucks account for about four percent of registered vehicles, they are involved in 11 percent of fatal highway crashes, and 27 percent of fatal work zone crashes involve at least one truck.

“We believe that Ms. Haskell’s failure to press charges sends a very dangerous message to the trucking industry, that you can kill seven people and just walk away,” Williams said. “We hope that this petition will send a different message to truck drivers out there — that all actions have consequences, and you will be held accountable in the public and civil realm, even if there is lack of accountability within the criminal justice system. No one else should needlessly die because of a preventable truck crash.”

The Truck Safety Coalition (www.trucksafety.org), a partnership between the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) Foundation and Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), is dedicated to reducing the number of deaths and injuries caused by truck-related crashes, providing compassionate support to truck crash survivors and families of truck crash victims, and educating the public, policy-makers and media about truck safety issues.

Read and sign the petition here.

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Safety Advocates, Teamsters Sue U.S. DOT for Failing to Issue Long-Overdue Truck Driver Training Requirements

For Immediate Release:

Sept. 18, 2014

Contact:

Karilyn Gower (202) 588-7779

Beth Weaver (301) 814-4088

Safety Advocates, Teamsters Sue U.S. DOT for Failing to Issue Long-Overdue Truck Driver Training Requirements

20 Years, Two Lawsuits and Two Congressional Mandates Later, Inexperienced Truck Drivers Still Hit the Road With No Behind-the-Wheel Training

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal appellate court should order the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue a long-overdue rule outlining training standards for entry-level truck drivers, safety advocates and a union told the court in a lawsuit filed today.

Congress initially told the agency to finish a rulemaking process on driver training by 1993, but the agency still has not done so.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed the suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia against the DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the agency charged with issuing the rule. Public Citizen is representing the groups.

“People are dying needlessly while the agency drags its feet,” said Henry Jasny, senior vice president and general counsel with Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “New truck drivers need to be properly trained before they get behind the wheel. This is a dereliction of the agency’s duty.”

“Enough is enough,” said Adina Rosenbaum, attorney for Public Citizen. “Twenty years, two lawsuits and two congressional mandates have not been successful at prodding the DOT into issuing the entry-level driver training rule. The court should step in and order the agency to act.”

There are 3.9 million commercial motor vehicle drivers in the U.S. with commercial driver’s licenses, and new drivers get on the roads daily. Drivers need only receive 10 hours of classroom lectures and pass a test to get their commercial driver’s license to drive a truck.

Large trucks that can weigh up to 40 tons when fully loaded are more complicated to operate than automobiles. Inexperienced truck drivers have higher crash rates and should have hours of supervised, behind-the-wheel training before they are allowed on the highways.

Approximately 4,000 people die and nearly 100,000 more are injured annually in truck crashes, according to government data. Large truck crash fatalities increased by 4 percent in 2012. This follows a 2 percent increase in 2011 and a 9 percent increase in 2010, despite a decline in overall motor vehicle deaths. Further, there was an 18 percent increase in 2012 of those injured in large truck crashes. The annual cost to society from large truck crashes is estimated to be more than $99 billion.

Dorothy Wert’s husband, David Wert, Sr., was killed in 2011 in a truck crash caused by an inexperienced truck driver who left his broken-down truck parked in the middle of a dark Pennsylvania highway at 3 a.m. with no lights on and no warning signals or flares. After the crash, David, a truck driver with 35 years of experience, managed to drive his truck safely onto the side of the road in spite of suffering fatal injuries.

“We have waited far too long for a requirement to ensure that truck drivers know what they are doing and have been tested before we allow them behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound truck,” said Wert, a CRASH volunteer advocate who lives in Montrose, Pa. “Truck drivers should not be allowed to drive without a required understanding of the regulations and a minimum number of training hours behind the wheel. I know that my husband would be alive today if the driver that caused Dave’s crash had been better trained, had more experience and had taken the proper precautions.”

“Proper training is absolutely necessary for new drivers to operate their rigs safely,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president. “The agency is shirking its responsibility by not issuing this long-overdue rule.”

The path to the rule has been long. In 1991, concerned about truck crashes, Congress passed a law requiring the DOT to complete a rulemaking by 1993 on the need to require training of entry-level commercial motor vehicle operators.

In 2002, when no rule had been issued, safety advocates went to court to force the agency to act. The DOT agreed to issue the rule by 2004. While it did issue a rule that year, the rule was grossly inadequate, requiring only 10 hours of classroom lectures, none of it on-the-road training. That is the rule that is still on the books.

Safety advocates returned to court, and in 2005, the court ruled that FMCSA had disregarded volumes of evidence that on-street training enhances safety. In 2007, the DOT issued another proposed rule, but the agency never finished it.

In 2012, Congress passed a second law (the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” also known as MAP-21) requiring the DOT to issue the entry-level training rule, this time by Oct. 1, 2013. Congress specified that the rule had to include behind-the-wheel training.

During the next year, FMCSA held listening sessions. Then, on Sept. 19, 2013, it withdrew the 2007 proposed rule that had been in limbo and said it was going back to the drawing board. On Aug. 19, 2014, FMCSA published a notice indicating it had not begun work on the new rule and did not intend to anytime soon. Instead, it said that it was exploring conducting a negotiated rulemaking, and that it had hired a “neutral convener” who would interview all concerned parties, balance all the interests and issue a report before the agency decided what type of rulemaking to undertake. No timetable was given for completion of the rule.

“The FMCSA’s inaction to release a new notice of proposed rulemaking for entry-level driver training is perpetuating a hazard for everyone on our roadways by permitting inexperienced drivers to interact with the unknowing public,” said John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, a partnership between CRASH and Parents Against Tired Truckers. “This hazard will only grow in scope as the turnover rate for truck drivers continues to remain extremely high – over 90 percent – and the current truck driver work force ages out.”

Read the lawsuit here.

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Auto safety is Not Alone: Truck safety Also Suffers from NHTSA’s “Tiny” Budget and Workforce

In response to reports released that show how regulators failed to identify an ignition defect in millions of G.M. cars that has been linked to at least 19 deaths, The New York Times published an editorial discussing how Congress needs to strengthen the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), the federal agency responsible for investigating auto defects.The editorial points to a lack of funding from Congress as a reason for the agency’s failure to identify this defect.

Truck safety also suffers from NHTSA’s small budget and staff. We are overdue on rulemaking for rear underride guards, side and front guards, speed governors, forward collision avoidance and mitigation systems and electronic stability control technology. Each year that these rules are not released results in serious injuries and loss of lives.

Read Our Letter to Secretary Foxx in Response to the Motor Carrier Industry’s Letter Regarding FMCSA’s CSA Program

Dear Secretary Foxx:

On behalf of the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC), Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), the thousands of families who have lost loved ones, and the tens of thousands more who have been injured each year in truck crashes, we are writing in response to the August 22, 2014, letter sent to you from members of the motor carrier industry regarding the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program. In this letter members of the trucking industry request that the Department, “remove motor property and passenger carriers’ CSA Safety Measurement System scores from public view.” Our organizations and volunteers strongly oppose this request to hide lifesaving safety data from the public. The safety-focused culture engendered by CSA greatly relies on the accountability it produces by making its data publicly available. We urge you to protect the current system and ensure that the CSA Safety Measurement System scores are not removed from public view.

In 2010, the FMCSA replaced their SafeStat Program with the CSA program that includes the Safety Management System (SMS). From the beginning, SMS and CSA were rolled out with the understanding that they would undergo improvements and modifications, and FMCSA has followed this plan. FMCSA has made changes to the SMS system to reflect stakeholder concerns and suggestions. The most recent changes occurred in July 2014, when FMCSA announced a package of enhancements to the SMS website resulting “from feedback solicited from motor carriers, law enforcement personnel, industry representatives and other stakeholders who were given an opportunity to critique various website enhancement proposals.”[1] As changes continue to be considered and made to hone the CSA Program, it is essential that CSA retains the ability to efficiently analyze data for timely intervention, that it is cost effective given FMCSA’s limited resources, that it remains fair to truck crash victims and their surviving family and friends by retaining the current Crash Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) system of including all crashes regardless of fault, and that it includes public access to carrier safety data.

In 2006, the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC) was formed to provide advice and recommendations to the FMCSA Administrator on motor carrier safety programs and motor carrier safety regulations. As you know, MCSAC is composed of motor carrier industry stakeholders including industry representatives, law enforcement, family members of truck crash victims, and safety organizations. In MCSAC meetings, when CSA benefits have been discussed, committee members noted that the system “is dispensing more data and giving the agency the ability to reach more carriers without a dramatic increase in resources” and inspiring “the start of a cultural change in the industry by forcing carriers to focus on the details of safety management.”[2] A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on CSA supports this assertion. The report identifies that industry stakeholders have found “that CSA’s greater reach and provision of data have helped raise the profile of safety issues across the industry. According to industry stakeholders, carriers are now more engaged and more frequently consulting with law enforcement for safety briefings.”[3]

Moreover, independent analysis indicates that MCSAC and other industry stakeholders’ assessment is accurate and that the CSA Program is a significant improvement over the prior system. Several key points from FMCSA’s own evaluation include:

  • CSA is effectively monitoring the industry with an interventions model that demonstrates an overall 35 percent increase in the number of carriers reached per Safety Investigator;[4]
  • From the CSA rollout in December 2010 until the end of 2011, violations per roadside inspection declined by eight percent and driver violations per inspection declined by 12 percent;[5] and,
  • Compliance improved while being less intrusive and time-consuming for all motor carriers (both large and small).[6]

These results show the most significant improvement in violation rates in the last 10 years. The advances achieved with the CSA program are necessary and long overdue and should not be modified in ways that will hinder their effectiveness. As with a previous attempt by the motor carrier industry to pressure FMCSA to hide and remove safety data (from the CSA Crash BASIC), removing data from public view will serve to reduce, rather than promote, safety.

The GAO report agrees with CSA’s “data-driven, risk-based approach.”[7] The GAO believes that the CSA “holds promise and can help FMCSA effectively identify carriers exhibiting compliance or safety issues—such as violations or involvement in crashes.”[8] Additionally, the report confirms FMCSA’s claim that the CSA program has helped the agency contact or investigate more motor carrier companies and that it is an improvement over the previous SafeStat system.[9]  Although the GAO did include recommendations to improve CSA in its report, they were issued to help CSA to become a sharper, more useful tool. The GAO never recommended or suggested the removal of the SMS scores from the CSA website.

The next step in enhancing the SMS system is a revised safety fitness determination (SFD) that reaches significantly more carriers than the approximately 12,000 yearly SFDs that FMCSA is currently able to perform through onsite compliance reviews. The SFD will more effectively use FMCSA data and resources to identify unfit motor carriers by analyzing the CSA BASIC data and other performance data to determine a carrier’s level of safety, and will address many of the motor carrier industry’s concerns. Although FMCSA indicated in their August 2014 Significant Rulemakings Report that a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the SFD will be issued in February 2015, we urge FMCSA and DOT to expedite the release of the revised SFD NPRM.

We urge the Department to continue to preserve and improve the efficient and effective CSA program including its essential public access to data which has, in a relatively short time, already helped to elevate the safety culture within the trucking industry. As FMCSA improves the CSA program and expands its data collection and delivery of safety information, we encourage FMCSA to ensure that the results produce greater oversight for both large and small carriers.

Sincerely,

Ed Slattery Board Member, Parents Against Tired Truckers Member, Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee CSA Subcommittee (recently disbanded)

Tami Friedrich Trakh Board Member, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways Member, Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee CSA Subcommittee (recently disbanded)

John Lannen Executive Director, Truck Safety Coalition Member, Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee CSA Subcommittee (recently disbanded)


[1] “FMCSA Announces Enhancements to SMS Website.” Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Duane DeBruyne Office of Public Affairs FMCSA, 25 July 2014. Web. 27 Aug. 2014.

[2] “TopNews.” New Advisory Panel Broadens Access to CSA Planning. Trucking Info Publisher David Moniz, 27  Aug. 2012. Web. 26 Aug. 2014.

[3] United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), Federal Motor Carrier Safety: Modifying the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program Would Improve the Ability to Identify High Risk Carriers, GAO-14-114, Feb. 2014, page 14.

[4] FEDERAL MOTOR CARRIER SAFETY ADMINISTRATION U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION BEFORE THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON SMALL BUSINESS, 112th Cong. (2012) (testimony of Wiliam A. Bronrott). Print.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), Federal Motor Carrier Safety: Modifying the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program Would Improve the Ability to Identify High Risk Carriers, GAO-14-114, Feb. 2014, page 31.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., page 13.

Two Hospitalized after a Work Zone Crash in Wisconsin

Another tragic crash occurred near Oshkosh, WI on September 8, 2014. This crash, between a semi truck and a Winnebago County Highway Department truck, sent  two people to the hospital after the semi entered into a work zone and hit a highway department truck from behind.

Trucks are over represented in fatal highway crashes and even more so in work zone fatal crashes. Although trucks account for about four percent of registered vehicles, they are involved in 11 percent of fatal highway crashes, and 27 percent of fatal work zone crashes involve at least one truck.