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TxDOT Issues Emergency Rule to Address Increased Accident Rates

Along with the booming natural gas industry, Texas traffic accident rates have exploded. Texas traffic fatalities have risen even as other state's rates have consistently continued to decline. Fortunately, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has decided to take action. Plans are underway to lower the speed limit in drilling areas, a move that could substantially reverse this undesirable trend.

51 Percent Increase in Commercial Vehicle Wreck Fatalities

Traffic deaths have risen in Texas by eight percent from 3,122 in 2009 to 3,378 in 2013, while traffic deaths declined in most other states. During the same period, deaths caused by commercial vehicle crashes rose by 51 percent from 352 to 532 in Texas. The major drilling regions of West and South Texas experienced a more than 240 percent spike in fatal commercial vehicle crashes in the same five-year period. The incredible spike in traffic deaths coincides with the heavy flow of thousands of tractor-trailers and drilling equipment travelling constantly to and from well sites and hauling gas, water and toxic drilling materials.

This urgent problem calls for an immediate solution. Therefore, the TxDOT is adopting an emergency rule that allows the agency to lower the speed limit by up to 12 mph within four weeks, as opposed to the several months typically required to change the speed limit through the regular review process.

Being a Fort Worth trucking injury lawyer, I am always looking for data that supports my clients' cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report recently that listed the number of work-related deaths from 2003 to 2010. It is well known that more workers are killed on our nation's highways than anywhere else. This report further showed that: More people 65 years and older were killed than anyone else -- at a rate of about three times more than those 18-54.

I just took a key deposition in an 18 wheeler crash case in which my team rushed out to obtain damning evidence against the trucking company and I wanted to stress just how important it is for an innocent victim to hire the best attorney. How do you know who to hire? Here are a few tips. STEP 1: Meet with several lawyers. See if you like them. Ask them these questions:

Truck driver fatigue is a factor in a shocking number of truck accidents. The risk of an 18 wheeler driver crashing dramatically increases as he drives longer hours. The driver is more likely to nod off and rear end another vehicle or drift into the next lane or across the centerline. But his company wants to increase its profits, and he wants to up his take home pay, so he keeps on trucking. In an attempt to improve highway safety, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has announced that new federal regulations that will further crack down on driver fatigue.

Here's a tragic story highlighting how dangerous drivers can be around 18 wheelers and fuel trucks, and how it's not always the trucker's fault. Three and two girls were killed in a fiery crash Sunday at a rural intersection outside of Dumas in the Panhandle. The young male driver of a 2012 Chevrolet Cruze ran the stop sign at the intersection with a Farm-to-Market Road, causing his vehicle to be "t-boned" by an oncoming 2012 Volvo tractor-trailer. The driver of the tractor-trailer suffered severe third degree burns to his entire body and is in critical care in a Lubbock hospital.             I've handled cases involving oil tanker collisions and they can be grisly. Here is a photo of another Volvo tractor-fuel tanker that crashed into my clients in a Ford Mustang a few years ago. (see third entry down) I filed suit and settled the case just prior to trial for a large sum of money after learning that the commercial truck had been improperly maintained and that its driver was unqualified. Please contact my office if you have unfortunately been involved in a collision with a truck and have any questions. I'll fight to get you the money you deserve.

LBJ Freeway at Josey Lane in Dallas was shut down for hours yesterday morning when a tractor-trailer crashed into another car and caused a huge chain reaction. Several people were rushed to area hospitals. The wreck was typical of Texas 18-wheeler wrecks: it happened during rush hour so more vehicles were affected and was caused by a careless commercial driver.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has just indicated that it may change federal guidelines regulating required stopping distances for all vehicles, including buses, automobiles, semi-trucks and tractor trailers, as well as improving heavy duty brake systems for tractor-trailers.

It can require as many as 335 feet to stop an 18 wheeler traveling at 60 miles per hour, depending on the weight of the load, road conditions, brakes, driver reaction, etc. That is more than the length of a football field.

I have handled many trucking accidents involving serious injuries and deaths which presumably would not have happened, or the injuries would not have been as severe, if these two restrictions had already been in place.

Here is a newspaper article from a case I handled a few years ago:

Victims want help inspecting wrecked oil truck

A hearing is set for Friday to see if an oil company should pay extra costs so attorneys representing a couple injured in a wreck in June can inspect the truck that hit them. The truck has been moved near Abilene.

The hearing will be in the 249th District Court of Johnson County in front of visiting Judge Kit Cooke.

Two women in the June 13 accident remain hospitalized at area hospitals, one in intensive care, attorney Bill Berenson said Wednesday.

Berenson is the attorney for Mary and John Reutter of Burleson, who both sustained serious injuries when an oil tanker truck driven by Ismael Villarreal, 41, of Abilene failed to stop in the southbound lane of Interstate 35W near the Briaroaks overpass and collided with two vehicles, creating a wreck with four other vehicles.

A fire from a burning hay truck had slowed traffic that afternoon, but Villarreal, ran over the back of the Reutters' 2002 Ford Mustang convertible, according to a police report compiled by Burleson Cpl. Sean Bolton.

The tanker then struck a 2003 Toyota RAV4 driven by Donna Ferolito, 32, of Austin. The force of that impact forced Ferolito's vehicle into a 2003 Jeep Cherokee driven by Diane Bogart, 50, of Burleson, and the Jeep was forced into a 1993 Ford pickup driven by Salvador Lopez, 23, of Alvarado.

After striking the Reutters' and Ferolito's vehicles, the trucker careened off the highway and drove until he crashed into a tree on the far side of the first crash, Berenson said.

Bolton cited Villarreal for following too closely. Ferolito and Mary Reutter, 60, were both transported by CareFlite to Fort Worth hospitals. John Reutter, 64, was transported by ambulance to the same hospital as his wife. He has been released.

The most seriously injured, Mary Reutter broke several bones in her upper body, suffered a punctured lung and remains in jeopardy of losing an arm due to nerve damage, Berenson said. She was driving the couple's convertible and the top was down.

The Reutters had just moved from Florida to avoid more hurricanes. They planned to build a home in southern Fort Worth.

Berenson said John Reutter told him the accident has ruined their lives.

The Reutters hired Berenson to represent them. A lawsuit has been filed for damages and pain and suffering as the victims continue to recover, but an emergency hearing has been planned to make sure the rig can be inspected.

In the meantime, the company who owns the tanker, United Petroleum Transports of Houston, moved the rig to near Abilene, out of reach of local accident investigators as they try to investigate the case and discover why Villarreal never applied his brakes as he struck the vehicles, Berenson said.

"The company, for no apparent reason, suddenly and without notice removed the vehicles to a location west of Abilene before such an inspection could proceed," the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit includes Villarreal's employers, L&L; Inc., which owned the truck.

The lawsuit argued the Reutters' attorneys have the right to inspect and test the tractor and tanker in Fort Worth, where it was first towed, or Burleson, where the collision occurred. Berenson said he is concerned that before an inspection can occur, the evidence will be repaired, altered or destroyed.

Berenson said United Petroleum has a facility in Euless, which would be close enough.

"Moving the vehicles west of Abilene obviously places a significant and entirely unnecessary financial burden on the Reutters and Ferolito, which may indicate the motivation behind this action," Berenson said.

Berenson said an accident reconstruction expert has warned that he will have to charge significant additional expenses to drive round trip to Abilene for that part of the investigation.

With attorneys for all parties working in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Berenson said it would have been quicker and cheaper to conduct the inspections locally, similar to costs for the other affected vehicles.

The lawsuit asks the judge to charge United Petroleum the additional expense if the inspection has to be held in near Abilene.


Please call me for a free no obligation telephone or personal consultation. I am an experienced Texas 18 wheeler accident attorney with over 30 years of experience. My number is 817-885-8000 or toll free at 1-800-801-8585.

The U.S. Transportation Department has just revised the hours-of-service requirements to cut down on fatigued 18 wheeler truck drivers.

The new rule reduces by 12 hours the maximum number of hours a truck driver can work within a week. Under the old rule, truck drivers could work on average up to 82 hours within a seven-day period.

In addition, truck drivers cannot drive after working eight hours without first taking a break of at least 30 minutes. .

The regulation retains the current 11-hour daily driving limit.

Truck drivers who maximize their weekly work hours must now take at least two nights' rest when their 24-hour body clock demands sleep the most - from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m.

Companies and drivers that commit egregious violations of the rule could face the maximum penalties for each offense. Trucking companies that allow drivers to exceed the 11-hour driving limit by 3 or more hours could be fined $11,000 per offense, and the drivers themselves could face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense.

Commercial truck drivers and companies must comply with the rule by July 1, 2013.

Here's the math:

(11 hours) Monday 12a-11a

(11 hours) Monday to Tuesday 9p-8a

(11 hours) Tuesday to Wednesday 6p-5a

(11 hours) Wednesday to Thursday 3p-2a

(34 hour reset) Thursday 2a to Friday 12p

(11 hours) Friday 12p to 11p

(11 hours) Saturday 9a to 10p

(11 hours) Sunday 8a to 9p

(11 hours) Monday 7a to 6p

Here is an excellent column in today's Dallas Morning News that I wanted to share. Congratulations to my friend, Dallas lawyer Todd Clement, for his hard work fighting to stop truckers from driving while using cell phones and texting. I just settled a large case where an 18 wheeler crashed into my client's vehicle which was at a complete stop on an interstate, because the trucker was on his cell phone and not paying attention to the road conditions ahead of him. This is a picture of her SUV.

by Steve Blow

It was more like an explosion than a collision. The work truck's cruise control was set at 71 miles an hour and the driver never touched the brake.

A car ahead of him was stopped in the highway, waiting to make a left turn. A 30-year-old woman and her 82-year-old grandmother were killed in an instant. "The driver said, 'I never saw them.' And though he would dispute it later, in the aftermath of the accident, he told an EMS driver that he was texting prior to the wreck," said Dallas lawyer Todd Clement. Clement represented the family of the women killed last year outside Sherman. He won a confidential settlement for them from the other driver's company. And Clement has been on a national campaign ever since to ban cellphone use in moving vehicles. "This case affected me more than any other in my life," the 49-year-old lawyer said. "A 3-year-old and a 9-year-old lost their mom. A husband lost his wife of 62 years and had to go into a nursing home immediately after the accident." On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board unanimously recommended that states outlaw cellphone use while driving. And Clement supports that move. But he travels the country urging a step that would have a huge and much more immediate impact. "Businesses have to ban this activity. That's the only way they can protect themselves," he said. That goes against the tide, of course. More and more of us use our vehicles as mobile offices. The driver who hit Clement's clients worked for Cable ONE, a major provider of cable, phone and Internet service. He drove a pickup owned by the company. But whether involving a company vehicle or not, the law is clear that a business is liable when an employee on the job causes an accident, Clement said. And cellphone use not only makes a crash far more likely, it also increases the likelihood of being found at fault, he said. And this is an area where juries seem especially eager to issue "send-a-message verdicts," he said -- turning their displeasure over cellphones into huge monetary awards. A 2009 Virginia Tech study concluded that cellphone users are at least six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash. A Texas Transportation Institute study released in October found that texting drivers were 11 times more likely to miss visual cues.

A fuel tanker crashed and burned on Interstate 30 early Friday morning, closing both sides of the freeway west of downtown Dallas. Traffic backed up for miles during the morning rush hour. Westbound lanes finally reopened between Hampton Road and Sylvan Avenue and by 9:30 all but one eastbound lane had reopened.
The crash happened when an eastbound white sedan changing lanes struck a second semi, causing it to veer into the tanker. The tanker then crashed into the concrete wall dividing the main lanes from the HOV lane. Three people were taken to Methodist Dallas Medical Center: the 35-year-old man driving the truck and two women in the car. None of their injuries were thought to be life-threatening. Please call me call if you have been involved in an 18-wheeler wreck I fight these trucking companies to get you the financial recovery that you deserve.
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