On Wednesday, April 22, 2015, five nursing students from Georgia Southern University were tragically killed in a crash with a tractor trailer just outside of Savannah.Unfortunately, the investigation into the accident has revealed that the trucking company involved has a questionable safety/violation history.
John Wayne Johnson, the 55 year old trucker from Shreveport, Louisiana, who was recently confirmed to be the tractor trailer driver involved in the Georgia crash, was driving for “Total Transportation” – a large carrier with approximately 740 trucks and 900 drivers based out of Mississippi. According to the US Department of Transportation (“USDOT”) records, Total Transportation drivers have received a total of 266 violations for unsafe driving in the last two years alone! And these violations were not for trivial matters. To the contrary, Total Transportation’s drivers were cited 107 times for speeding, 45 times for disregarding traffic control devices (i.e., stop lights, stop/yield signs, etc.), 9 times for improper use of a cell phone while driving, and 5 times for failing to maintain a safe following distance. Unfortunately, the list of the company’s violations doesn’t end there. Close review of the USDOT data for that same 2 year window reveals that Total Transportation’s trucks have also been involved in 85 other crashes, which led to a multitude of injuries, and the company’s trucking fleet also received over 500 citations for maintenance violations.
While these numbers are staggering, the sad truth is that this data only captures the instances in which the company and its drivers were actually caught violating the rules, regulations and laws governing safety. One’s mind reels when considering the actual frequency with which this company or its drivers may have ignored safety. Distracted driving, excessive speed, unsafe following distances, and poor maintenance are amongst the leading causes of preventable truck crashes.
In my experience as a trucking lawyer, a safety record as bad as Total Transportation’s can only be explained at the corporate level. All too frequently, trucking companies in this country push their drivers to meet schedules that cannot be met without violating speed laws, cutting back on necessary safety inspections, or violating the hours of service regulations. Those hours of service regulations exist to make certain that drivers get the rest needed to ensure public safety.
Why do these trucking companies do this? Usually, the answer is simple: profit. Many of them have corporate cultures that place greater emphasis on dollars over safety.
Is this the explanation for Total Transportation’s safety record? Only time will provide the answer. But, I can tell you for certain, companies that ignore safety and fail to penalize drivers who violate the traffic laws are a menace, and as long as they are permitted to exist, our roadways will not be safe.