The Media and Trucking

I wish to point to how truck drivers and trucking companies are often painted in the media. It often seems that newspapers and newspaper reporters are motivated to sensationalize accidents involving large trucks in order to sell more newspapers.

(See here) a piece that appeared at the Washington Post website that could have been titled "Maniacs Behind the Wheel".

Now, I do not wish to attempt to absolve the truck driver of responsibility for the accident that is reported about. I could imagine a scenario where the driver was not at major fault, however this driver rear ended another vehicle and "most probably" was at fault and should be held accountable. Even if, as witnesses described, the three vehicles he ran into were "parked in the middle of the highway" this is not a real excuse. The truck driver should have been operating his vehicle in a manner and at a speed where he could have safely brought his truck to a stop in time to avoid such a collision. To me, it sounds like the vehicle backing up traffic (the one with its flashers on) was having mechanical difficulties and was trying to get to the next exit or something instead of just pulling off onto the shoulder. Perhaps this was not the wisest thing to do in the world, but this is not that unusual and the truck driver should have been ready for something like this.

However let us examine where the article goes "too far" in its reporting. Where the article seems to scream "maniacs behind the wheel". First, notice how the article points out how the truck driver was "cited" for speeding 11 times but only convicted 8 times. While a record of 8 times for being convicted for speeding is rather appalling, it is not fair to even mention every time the driver was cited but not convicted. The inference is that not only is the driver not "innocent until proven guilty" he is guilty once cited. The truck driver deserves the same considerations that every other driver deserves. If the judge found him not guilty, the not guilty finding should be respected and the verdict honored, they should not even have been mentioned.

However, in an effort to be fair, I am going to admit that the driver's record of 8 convictions for moving violations is pretty bad. It is my experience that most law enforcement officers are pretty tolerant of truck drivers when it comes to speeding. I have had officers flip on their lights to warn me to slow down without pulling me over. Officers get on the CB to warn me in no uncertain terms that I better slow down or he was going to give me a ticket. Officers have pulled me over and the only thing that kept me from getting a ticket was that he sized me up, examined my log book, took a look at my equipment and let me off with a verbal warning. In each case, the officer sized up my "offense" and decided my offense was not so great that he/she needed to cite me because my offense was not that great. My "offense" was not so great that he needed to threaten my livelihood but great enough to get my attention so as to attempt to change my behaviour. In my own defense I am going to state that every instance I was involved with, I was only attempting to maximize my fuel economy and limit wear on my brakes. I might have been a little bit slow coming down to the speed limit as I entered town as I let me truck coast down instead of getting on the brakes because I noticed the reduced speed limit a little bit late. Perhaps the reason my driving record is so clean is because the officers involved understood this.

Here's another example of sensationalizing: "Scofield racked up traffic citations in each of those states and convictions in at least two, court records show." If the truck driver was cited in "each of those states" without conviction, the citations should not have even been mentioned. Mentioning them when they did not result in a guilty verdict is an attempt to make the driver's awful record appear even worse then it is.

Yet another example of sensationalizing: "In Delaware, where Scofield had his commercial driver's license, court records show the license was suspended seven times between October 1988 and January 1999. Each time, his license was restored." This seems to be an obvious example of of erroneous suspension or something. Perhaps the driver's license was erroneously suspended seven times and in each case the driver was able to point out and convince someone the suspension was wrong. The reporter should have either explored the justification for the suspensions or not bothered to report on this at all. I will only point out that the piece reports "Each time, his license was restored." That this instance was even reported upon proves an effort to sensationalize or proves the reporter lacks common sense. You decide.

Most telling of the motivation on the part of the reporter and the editor who reviewed the piece is the inclusion of how so early the attorney who represents the injured party in the accident is allowed to express such a one sided opinion about it. The article reports:
"It's frightening to think that people like Scofield and others are out there,"said attorney Ron Karp, who filed a wrongful-death suit last week against the driver and his employer. "There are people behind the wheels of trucks that just shouldn't be, and it's becoming a national epidemic."

Notice how early in the article this attorney is allowed to present such a one sided statement. This attorney is not only motivated to try THIS case in the newspaper (and influence the jury pool ahead of time) he is seeking to try future traffic accidents involving trucks as well with the inflated statement that "it's becoming a national epidemic." My experience is that safety enforcement is already so extreme for big trucks that is extremely difficult for scofflaws to escape enforcement. It is already so extreme that enforcement efforts are an extreme burden for those who seek to drive safely and who are forced to endure the hardship of the extreme enforcement.

As for the citation the truck driver received for the "driving with defective brakes" violation, I am willing to hold the truck driver completely harmless. My experience is that Department of Transportation inspectors inspecting trucks for safety are motivated to nitpick trucks for safety violations in order to justify that their efforts deserve their being paid their salary or something. That on occasion these inspectors seem to be motivated to not only nitpick but actually cite trucks for safety violations that do not exist. To prove my point I am going to have to write a completely new article because this point demands consideration on its own.


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