The substantial increase in container traffic to our Southeastern Ports has had a direct correlation with the increase in the number of tractor trailers and serious crashes on our highways. The traffic fatalities in Florida and Georgia this year are at near record levels and it is only October. A number of factors have come together to create a perfect storm of increased risk for you, your family members and friends that drive on our highways. The economy is in a recovery mode, consumer demand is up, the dollar is gaining strength, west coast ports had extended labor strikes resulting in increased costs and delays and the cost of diesel fuel is considerably lower than in recent years. All of this combined means east coast ports like Savannah and Jacksonville are seeing record numbers of container vessels and cargo coming through their ports every month.
The Port of Savannah was recently named one of the ten fastest growing container ports in the world. Even more alarming is that these record increases month over month will only increase with the larger container vessels that will be arriving after the Panama Canal expansion and local dredging are complete.
Most of the products coming in through Savannah are shipped to and through our major population centers, like Jacksonville and Atlanta. All of the containers are driven by semis on flat bed chassis for at least part of their delivery routes on the way to their final destinations. With a 30+% driver shortage already, motor carriers are forced to use less experienced, less trained and less qualified drivers to move this increased freight load. That means more tractor trailers on our roadways with less experienced drivers. Not surprisingly, we have seen a corresponding increase in serious injury and fatal crashes involving tractor trailers in Georgia and Florida this year.
Another problem involves the equipment being used to transport the containers. The record increase in new and larger containers arriving has greatly exceeded the number of chassis available to transport the containers on our highways. The trailer manufacturers are already taking orders well into 2016 and there has not been any corresponding increase in orders for new container chassis trailers. That means the motor carriers that haul intermodal containers are using older model and aging chassis more often. Less experienced drivers hauling more containers with aging equipment is a recipe for disaster.
What can you do? Learn to drive safely around a tractor trailer. Understand how to recognize a fatigued or dangerous tractor trailer driver. Keep a safe distance and always avoid the no zone (pictured below). Finally, God forbid you or a loved one suffer a crash with a tractor