If House Bill 409 becomes a law in Kentucky, drivers in the state will have to be extra careful. The proposal would make it legal for coal drivers to stop, in the middle of the road, for up to an hour while unloading cargo. For an additional fee, coal trucks would be permitted to stop traffic for up to four hours - effectively closing some rural roads.
If passed, this law would make it easier to clear the coal industry of liability, in many circumstances, in car accidents involving parked coal trucks.
And there are accidents.
Between 2000 and 2004, Kentucky saw over 700 accidents involving trucks licensed to haul coal, including over 500 injuries and more than 50 casualties. In most of these cases, the driver of the smaller vehicle was the one injured.
It's a matter of physics. Kentucky coal trucks are big to begin with and, when carrying coal, usually add between 85,000 and 120,000 pounds of cargo. That's a lot of mass and momentum.
According to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, coal industry veterans and others, the law could foster a very dangerous environment for both drivers and coal truck operators.
In 2005, the Lexington Herald-Leader profiled the dangers posed by coal trucks, noting that regulations seemed to be lax on operation and safety precautions. Rear light problems and ineffective rear guards, which stop cars from sliding under the truck, were uncovered as nagging industry problems.
The coal industry's response, and the response of HB 409 proponents, has largely been the same — it's the other driver's fault. From pulling out in front of trucks, to speeding, representatives of organizations such as the Kentucky Coal Association, claim unsafe drivers cause most accidents involving coal trucks.
While some accidents are surely caused by inattentive, or unsafe, drivers, surely there's something to be said regarding the number of accidents involving coal trucks. Like other semi-truck drivers, coal truckers are on tight deadlines, work long hours, and have paydays that rely on their ability to carry more — and carry it faster.
In 2008, commercial vehicles accounted for over 10 percent of fatal collisions, despite comprising only five percent of total collisions. Many of these commercial vehicles were trucks.
While coal trucks aren't legally allowed to stop in the middle of the road yet, Kentucky drivers should still be watchful and exercise caution. Very few make it out unscathed from a confrontation with a coal truck.
If you or a loved one has been injured due to an accident with a coal truck, speak to an experienced personal injury attorney in your area. A lawyer can help answer your questions and explain your legal rights and options.