Trucking news and briefs for Wednesday, March 30, 2022:
Operation Safe Driver Week dates set
This year’s Operation Safe Driver Week targeting unsafe driving behaviors is scheduled for July 10-16, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance announced Tuesday.
Law enforcement personnel in the U.S., Canada and Mexico will be on roadways throughout that week issuing warnings and citations to commercial and passenger vehicle drivers engaging in unsafe driving behaviors, such as speeding, distracted driving, following too closely, improper lane change, drunk or drugged driving, etc.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its latest annual traffic crash report, showing that 38,824 lives were lost in traffic crashes nationwide in 2020 – the highest number of fatalities since 2007 -- even as truck-involved fatalities were down. And while the number of crashes and traffic injuries declined overall, fatal crashes increased by 6.8%.
[Related: The 14-state truck speed trap]
Due to speed-relating fatalities increasing by 17% in 2020, according to NHTSA’s data, law enforcement officers will be keying in on identifying and targeting speeding during Operation Safe Driver Week.
The Operation Safe Driver Program was created to improve the driving behaviors of all drivers and reduce the number of crashes involving commercial motor vehicles on roadways through educational and traffic enforcement strategies. Operation Safe Driver Week was created by CVSA with support from federal agencies in Canada, Mexico and the U.S., the motor carrier industry, and transportation safety organizations.
Two more plead guilty in New Orleans staged-accident fraud scheme
Two more people have entered guilty pleas related to the staged-accident fraud scheme targeting trucking companies and their insurers in the New Orleans area.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Duane A. Evans announced that Latrell Johnson, 30, of New Orleans pled guilty on March 16 to count one of her indictment, which charged conspiracy to commit mail fraud. In exchange, the government agreed to dismiss two counts of mail fraud.
In pleading guilty, Johnson faces a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison, a term of supervised release of up to three years, and a fine of up to $250,000.
According to court documents, Johnson falsely claimed that she was a passenger in a car that was struck by a tractor-trailer on May 11, 2017. In fact, Johnson conspired with Damian Labeaud, Mario Solomon and others to intentionally collide with a tractor-trailer in the area of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road in New Orleans.
After the intentional collision, Johnson filed a fraudulent lawsuit claiming that the tractor-trailer was at fault and lied in a deposition. This scheme caused the insurance company for the tractor-trailer to pay more than $140,000 in settlement funds for the May 11, 2017, collision.
Then, on March 23, Ishais Price, 41, of New Orleans, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with a staged accident.
According to the guilty plea, Price, along with her co-defendants, Doniesha Gibson, of New Orleans; and Chandrika Brown, of Harvey, Louisiana; and a co-defendant driver conspired to commit mail fraud in connection with a staged accident with a co-defendant driver.
Price claimed that on Oct. 15, 2015, she was a passenger in a 2014 Dodge Avenger owned and driven by Gibson that was hit by a Hotard bus while traveling on I-10 near the flyover of I-510. Also in the vehicle was defendant Brown. In truth, a co-defendant asked Gibson to recruit Brown and Price to ride along as passengers, and he then intentionally sought out a commercial vehicle to intentionally hit. After the staged accident, the co-defendant driver switched seats with Gibson, and they called the N.O.P.D. Gibson, along with the passengers, falsely stated that the Hotard bus illegally changed lanes and caused the accident.
Then Brown, Gibson, Price, and the co-defendant driver each retained counsel and made demands against Hotard’s owner and insurer for personal injury damages. As a result of the claims, the insurer utilized the U.S. Postal Service to send the settlement drafts to Brown, Gibson, Price and the co-defendant driver’s counsel. The total settlement for the Hotard bus accident was approximately $677,500.
Price faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Upon release, she also faces a term of supervised release of up to three years, and/or a fine of $250,000 or the greater of twice the gross gain to the defendant or twice the gross loss to any person
The two guilty pleas bring the total number of defendants convicted in the staged-accident scheme to 32.
Fuel prices back on the rise
Diesel fuel prices across the U.S. increased again during the week ending March 28, erasing in part an 11.6-cent decrease from the previous week.
According to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, fuel prices increased last week by 5.1 cents to a national average of $5.185 per gallon.
During the most recent week, prices increased in all regions, with the most significant increase being seen in New England, where prices jumped 18.4 cents last week, followed by the Rocky Mountain region, which saw a 15.7-cent increase.
The nation’s cheapest diesel can be found in Gulf Coast region at $4.972 per gallon, followed by the Midwest region at $4.994 per gallon.
The most expensive fuel is on the West Coast, with California’s average at $6.289 per gallon, and the West Coast less California averaging $5.402 per gallon.
Prices in other regions, according to EIA, are:
- New England — $5.309
- Central Atlantic — $5.40
- Lower Atlantic — $5.145
- Rocky Mountain — $5.044
ProMiles’ numbers during the same week saw fuel prices decrease by 2.5 cents, bringing its national average to $5.018 per gallon.
According to ProMiles’ Fuel Surcharge Index, the most expensive diesel can be found in California at $6.212 per gallon, and the cheapest can be found in the Midwest region at $4.856 per gallon.