TRUCK ACCIDENTS FROM A TROOPER’S POINT OF VIEW. WHAT ARE SOUTH CAROLINA HIGHWAY TROOPERS SEEING WITH THE NATURE AND NUMBER OF TRUCKING ACCIDENTS ON OUR HIGHWAYS?
Legal news, information, and interviews from Collins & Lacy, a leading South Carolina defense firm for construction, worker’s comp, hospitality, retail, trucking, professional liability, mediation, government, and ethics matters. The views expressed by the guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect that of Collins & Lacy, its management, or employees. This is The Legal Bench.
Michael Burney: Welcome to The Legal Bench. I’m Michael Burney, Director of Business Development at Collins and Lacy Law Firm in Columbia, South Carolina. Today we’ll hear about trucking safety and mishaps through the eyes of a South Carolina Highway Patrol officer. With me to introduce our special guest is Claude Prevost. Claude is a shareholder at Collins and Lacy and chair of our trucking and transportation defense practice group. Claude tell us about our guest.
Claude Prevost: Thanks Mike. Working with the largest law enforcement agency in the state is Master Trooper David Jones. He’s been a South Carolina state trooper for about 16 years and has served as a media relations liaison. Master Trooper David Jones has allowed me to call him Trooper David as part of a courtesy. Trooper David has worked with Region 1, which covers the state capitol, the midlands area of South Carolina, and he is responsible for community relations and the education of traffic safety. Today we’re going to talk about trucking and safety on the roadways in the Midlands and throughout South Carolina.
Trooper David, can you tell us a little bit about your job, the regions you work in, and services you provide our state.
Trooper David: Yeah, first, it’s a pleasure to be here and I appreciate y’all bringing this out. Like you said, Trooper David that’s easy for a lot of people to reach out and ask for Trooper David. It’s a lot more well-known than Trooper Jones, because there’s about 50 Jones’s that with the Department of Public Safety. I have been a trooper 16 years. Working the road, we see all sorts of things. We may go from traffic enforcement to more of a traffic education role or traffic investigations with collisions and so forth, so the average day of a trooper changes drastically depending on what their job duty is and where they’re going 12-hour shifts. You work on average about 16 days a week, so we do get some down time, but in those 12 hours there’s a lot that can be had in a community that you serve.
CP Can you tell us how you serve the community and help educate with regard to incidents with passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles?
TD Our biggest thing is education, because if we can effectively teach a point and have you go back to your family and say “hey, I talked to a trooper,” and you can encourage your family members and make a positive change, and we’ve effectively done our job without having to use enforcement, so education is a big key. Enforcement is a necessity when you have to. If you see a motorist with no seatbelt, it’s easy to stop them and explain that over half of our fatalities had access to seat beats but made the poor decision not to wear them. And you can explain that you know you have a collision and you may have 3 crashes. You have the initial impact and you have the person hitting the steering wheel and internally you have your organs. So what’s deadly for us would be the physics behind that of your 3 lb. heart hitting inside your chest, or your 7 lb. brain, and we can explain that to a lot of people, and if we can get them to go back to their family members and encourage them to buckle up because it’s going to save your life, and out of a 1,000 fatalities over 600 had access to seat belts and didn’t wear them, then hopefully we can make a positive change. But again, enforcement’s part of that process too. As we see commercial vehicles and more vehicles on a roadway we know it’s more important ever to get our message across and make sure that the motorist is doing the right thing that you’re every day driver going to work or going to school is watching out for the commercial vehicles and that when we talk to these commercial drivers that they’re doing everything they can to prepare and make sure they’re being safe while they’re on the road.
CP What are some things passengers can do beside buckling up to be safe on the roads as they interact with commercial trucks?
TD You know, for us, everybody’s in a hurry. We see it day in and day out. The biggest issue that we have is distracted driving and it plagues a lot of vehicles on the road. If we were to leave here today and go out and just sit at a red light, we’re going to see someone pull up with a cellphone in their hand, the lights going to turn green, they’re probably going to sit there for an extra 20-30 seconds until the neighbor blows the horn and they’re going to drive off, so we know that distraction plays a huge part. And then too, when you have a two-lane interstate compared to a three-lane, traffic becomes heavily congested. You have more people that are impatient, so they try to zip in and out. They tailgate often times and they try to get around some of these truckers maybe, or some of these larger commercial vehicles in an attempt to get to their destination faster. And as we’ve all seen, typically what happens is we all reach the same destination at the same time eventually without saving much. We stress the importance of every speed that you increase also increases your chances of being injured in a crash. The fact that these congested highways, for instance, for us in South Carolina we have Interstate 26 to Charleston, that’s heavily congested; I-20 is being widened in Lexington County in the Midlands, but I-20 can become heavily congested at times and we see people who become impatient who try to beat some of this traffic and there’s nowhere for them to go, so we preach the message of packing your patience’s, slowing down, limiting your distractions because all of those play into a big part of our crashes that we see on a daily basis.
CP Trooper David, you just mentioned highway construction. What are some things commercial trucks and everyday folks can do to be safe as they interact with a construction zone?
TD Often times in these construction zones there isn’t much room for errors, so you don’t have very wide medians or pull off points, so at that point it’s extremely important not only a trucker per se, but the motoring public in general, to limit their distractions, to reduce their speeds, and watch out for any hazardous conditions on the road. Often times, for instance in Lexington, a lot of these collisions we see is because people follow too closely. The speed limit is 45 in most of these construction zones, they’re going too fast, they can’t see around the tractor trailer in front of them, the tractor trailer slows down for stopped traffic, the person behind them doesn’t know there’s stopped traffic because they can’t see around them and they run into the backs of these tractor trailers or 18-wheelers. And that’s a common crash that we see. So, we encourage people to slow down, but most important limit their distractions and watch for worker’s presence throughout the course of these highway reconstructions that we see. Often times we will have troopers in place not only for traffic enforcement but also safety for the workers that are present, so if you speed through a construction zone or drive distracted, just know that typically we are out there in full force and we’re watching for that.
CP Your team obviously responds to incidents and accidents. What are some of the things during your investigation, some of the data you’re trying to collect when figuring out an incident happened?
TD I’ll walk you through the first steps as a trooper who pulls up on a scene, and I’ll refer to a crash that I’ve investigated personally that I’ve gone to. For me, the first thing I want to do is make sure everybody’s okay. Typically, EMS or Fire may already be there, but we’re going to pull up and make sure everybody’s okay first. Then what are the parties are in, whether two vehicles or three, we’re going to separate those people. We’re going to ask what happened, see if there are any witnesses. Often times with everybody being in a hurry, the witnesses hang out for a minute but often times ready to go, so we may try to find a witness to get their information and get them back on the road as quickly as possible, but we’ll talk to both parties, talk to whoever’s involved, get that information then go back and look to see if what we’ve been told if there’s any discrepancies and 99% of the time, I think both parties are in agreeance that Unit 1 was slowing, Unit 2 was enable to stop and struck Unit 1 in the rear. That’s how we look at it, that’s pretty cut and dry. But often times it’s not that easy. There’s a lot of complex issues with that investigation so we’ll call in a reconstruction expert who will come in. And with vehicles today with data collectors, with video surveillance and businesses or other places, it’s easier in 2021 than it was in 2005 when I started, because you’re able to gather a lot of information where before we didn’t have it, so if there is any questions we go to video surveillance that may be in the area, get those data collectors, look at that information that’s collected and almost every vehicle now has that, and that helps out tremendously. One thing about the commercial side, a lot of these bigger companies actually have cameras inside the truck and some of the owner-operators have cameras that capture a lot of information, so for us especially in a situation where it’s a he-said/she-said which would be an improper lane change typically, we get Unit 1 saying Unit 2 changed lanes to the side of them, then you have Unit 2 saying no I was maintaining my lane straight and Unit 1 changed lanes beside me. For a witness it is very difficult to see that, but with a camera on commercial vehicle, the majority of the time we are able to look at that footage and show that the tractor trailer maintained its lane the entire course and in fact it didn’t change lanes and it’s easier to show the other party is at fault in that crash. We may ask a lot of questions that may go into detail, the majority of the time it’s a simple black-and-white collision that’s not too much involved as some of the others.
CP Trooper David can you give us an example, either you have encountered, or your team has encountered now, of folks acting safely, following the law, wearing a seatbelt, being patient has probably saved their life?
TD Yeah, you know, I’ve stopped motorists and given them tickets for seatbelts and see them a month later and say you know I put my seatbelt on I was in a crash that saved my life. Those are stories that we hear, but we’ve seen the aftermaths of collisions where they walk away from them and you go my goodness they shouldn’t be here today, so we know that buckling up and driving at a safe speed and with the new technology in these vehicles that their life was saved. For us, a lot of the people we meet probably aren’t doing the right thing. We’re stopping them because of a violation and we’re stopping them because they’re not being safe. The vast majority of drivers are doing the right thing, but here’s the deal with traffic safety, it isn’t prejudice, it affects us all, and for us, if I was to go into a Chick-fil-A and eat lunch, somebody’s going to walk up and say I appreciate what you do, you deal with some bad people. And I always refer back to the person, I go, well have you ever been stopped by a trooper and they tell me their trooper story and I go well are you a bad person and they go well I don’t think so. 99% of the people we deal with are good people who make poor decisions. We’re not dealing with criminals. We’re not dealing with bad people. We’re dealing with your Mom, your brother or sister, you know, my wife, my loved ones. Everyday good people make poor decision, so we know the vast majority of people are doing the right thing, but when we meet them unfortunately, they’re probably not.
CP The commercial truckers you meet, by enlarge are they trying to make the right decisions and be safe?
TD You know, coming from working the road I don’t know over the last 16 years that I’ve met a truck that probably didn’t take his livelihood at his job serious, because at the end of the day they rely on their driver’s license, that was their livelihood. Not only would a violation affect them, but it affects your family, it affects their career, so you know the majority of the commercial drivers I’ve met were doing the right thing, they wanted to do the right thing. If there was an issue it was more than likely wasn’t intentional. It was probably something they weren’t educated about or didn’t know. But for me as a trooper, we would deal or stop truck drivers or commercial drivers for little things. A brake line locked up on their rig and they couldn’t move, or they forgot to hook the lights up to their trailer, so we stop them to let them know their trailer lights are off. They may be speeding coming down a hill, but they were scared of a load shift, so they didn’t lock on brakes. We’re fortunate enough that if there was a major collision involved, that’s when we’d call our counterparts at STP to come out and do the inspections, who really goes in depth with these truck drivers and talks to them on a daily basis. But for us with our limited role, I’ve always been impressed with the idea that it was their job, that it’s their livelihood, and they’re going to do what they need to do to make sure they maintained the law and protected not only their credentials but make sure they’re going to stay employed to take care of themselves and their family.
CP Trooper David we appreciate your service and your relationship with the community in South Carolina. If folks want to reach out and talk to you, ask you questions, make contact with you, what are some good ways to do that?
TD The best way in today’s world with social media is on Instagram or Twitter. You can search Trooper David, and there’s a whole host of other troopers around the state of South Carolina that you can reach out to. Also, if you’re in South Carolina you can dial *47, which is *HP and ask for Trooper David or Trooper David Jones and they’ll send you to my cell phone number or shoot an email over with yours. But really social media is a platform we use a lot and it’s a safe way for us to interact with the people we serve not only here in South Carolina but around the nation and we keep it pretty open. There are times at midnight people, a message will be on social media asking about a traffic delay and it’s nice to be able to look over at the nightstand, pick up the phone and let them know a route they can take or go around that incident. So, it builds a relationship with the people we serve and that’s a positive one, so we’re going to keep on keeping on with that.
CP Trooper David, thank you for your time today and we appreciate your service and stay safe out there.
MB You’ve been listening to Master Trooper David Jones from the South Carolina Highway Patrol and Collins and Lacy Attorney Claude Prevost. For legal news and information of interest to South Carolina businesses, join us right here for the next episode of The Legal Bench.