I’ve previously written blogs about “step-down” provisions often included in automobile insurance policies.   Such a provision is usually included in the “fine print” section of the policy.  It applies to injured claimants who are a named insured under another policy.  The step-down clause steps the available uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage down to the policy limits of the injured person’s own policy.  For example, if John Doe has a personal automobile insurance policy with uninsured/underinsured coverage in the amount of $15,000 but is injured in a car crash while driving a dump truck owned by his employer, he is limited to his own $15,000 policy if the offending driver is uninsured or also has a limited policy.  This is true even if John Doe is catastrophically injured and the dump truck carries $5,000,000 in coverage.  A step-down clause on the dump truck’s coverage will step down the available benefits to John Doe’s $15,000 policy.

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has specific rules that prohibit Interstate truck and bus drivers and those who are moving quantities of hazardous materials that require placards from texting and/or using hand held mobile phone devices while driving/operating motor vehicles. Violations can result in fines and disqualifications that will impact a motor carrier’s safety measurement. Plain and simple, commercial motor vehicle operators cannot text while driving. Apparently, there is an issue as to what defines “texting”. It has been defined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to mean manually entering alpha numeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device. This rule is also used to impose sanctions including civil penalties and disqualifications from operating a commercial motor vehicle in Interstate Commerce for all drivers who have failed to be in compliance.

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As part of the recently passed transportation bill, Congress has ordered the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to create a national clearinghouse for drug and alcohol test results for commercial drivers.  The clearinghouse, which is strongly supported by the American Trucking Associations “ATA,” is designed to close a significant loophole in the existing rules and prevent “job-hopping” drivers who violate the drug and alcohol rules.
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Have you ever passed a tractor-trailer or bus and seen its driver talking on a hand-held cell phone?  Have you ever seen a tractor-trailer or bus in your rearview mirror whose driver was talking on a hand-held cell phone?  I have and I doubt that my experience is unique.

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On June 27, 2012, Congress passed the $109 billion transportation and infrastructure bill, which contains a possible mandate for electronic on-board recorders “EOBRs.”  Following the passage of the bill, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will make a decision concerning the mandatory EOBRs within a year.

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In June, Congress debated a proposal that would require commercial truckers to install electronic on-board recorders “EOBRs” on their tractors.  EOBRs are similar to, though less sophisticated than, the “black boxes” that we hear about on commercial aircraft.  The proposal is part of the 2012 transportation and infrastructure bill and is designed to make our roadways safer by ensuring that truckers do not violate the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours of service regulations.

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One new and creative solution to the distracted driving epidemic can be found in the form of applications for Android and Apple phones that disable the phone’s texting function when it is in motion.  Ocean County has teamed with the maker of one such application, MobileLock, and is offering 500 free vouchers for the download and installation of the product.  The vouchers can be picked up on a first come first serve basis at police stations throughout Ocean County.  If the program is met with a positive response, in hopes, it will be expanded to other parts of the State.

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A recent New Jersey case involving distracted driving has made national headlines.  The case involves a motorcyclist and his passenger who were catastrophically injured when a distracted, text messaging driver struck their bike.  The case gained national attention because the injured riders sued the individual who was sending text messages to the driver and knew that the recipient was driving at the time of the conversation.

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Recently, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., introduced the committee’s highway bill.  The proposed legislation contains provisions that would allow states to increase truck weight limits from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds and allow 33 foot double trailers as opposed to the current limit of 28 feet.  The trucking and shipping industries have vigorously endorsed these provisions, which they claim will increase capacity and decrease the costs of shipping (note the omission of any mention or concern for safety – “profit over people”).  Not surprisingly, the trucking industry is one of the Top 5 financial contributors to Rep. Mica’s Campaign Committee and Leadership PAC funds.

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How many people work in the trucking industry as a whole?
The trucking industry, and its related businesses, employ an estimated 8.9 million people in the United States, approximately 3.5 million of which are truck drivers. On its own, UPS is reported to employ over 60,000 workers. As of 2003, there were an estimated 15.5 million commercial trucks in operation in the United States. Approximately 2 million of these were tractor trailers.

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