Scary Revelations About Trucking Industry Safety Regulations

With 25 dead and 83 injured as a result of just four accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called for an audit which will ask: is the federal government's designated trucking industry watchdog doing its job? These horrible accidents occurred in a span of just four months–December 2012 to March 2013–and NTSB’s investigations revealed that the motor carriers whose commercial vehicles were involved had already been identified as risks by the watchdog agency, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

NTSB’s report on its investigation is disturbing: In all four accidents, NTSB investigators identified “safety deficiencies and noted red flags had been present prior to the crashes,” the board said in a press release, and that the red flags either were not noticed or not acted upon by FMCSA.“Our investigators found that in many cases, the poor performing company was on FMCSA’s radar for violations, but was allowed to continue operating and was not scrutinized closely until they had deadly crashes,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman.

FMCSA has responded that its enforcement efforts have escalated through the years, but having represented the transportaiton industry for six years, TLO lawyer David Traywick can tell you: trucking companies regularly push the envelope on safety compliance. The reason is simple: safety is expensive. Good drivers are expensive to hire and retain. Qualified, knowledgeable safety directors are expensive to hire and retain. A legitimate maintenance program is expensive to implement and continue. And these four wrecks are classic examples.

FMCSA found that the bus that crashed and killed nine people and injured 28 in Oregon had a driver who was operating over the lawful limit for hours at the wheel, a regulation designed to prevent fatigued drivers. He also had a tire that wasn’t rated for the highway. The company also apparently had a known track record for failing to comply with mandatory drug testing requirements. Despite these obvious and outrageous risks to which the bus company exposed the public, the bus company’s lawyer laughably claims the wreck was caused by “black ice” on the roadway.

A Mexican tour company’s bus, which had been ordered shut down on three of its five most recent roadside inspections because it did not meet basic safety standards, crashed and killed seven passengers and another motorist in California, because literally every one of its brakes didn’t work- an obvious maintenance deficiency. Think about that: this bus was a known, regular hazard, completely unfit for the public, on which no sane person would have knowingly (if informed) ridden, all of which was known to government regulators…yet there it was tooling around California on the day it killed eight people. TLO respectfully suggests that folks who constantly plead for “less regulation!” should consider instances like this.

The guy driving the tractor trailer that killed six passengers in Kentucky was, accoridng to FMCSA, way over the permitted number of driving hours, and had prepared blatantly fraudulent documents (called log books) by which he hoped to avoid detection if inspected or pulled over or audited. This was not a rogue driver: all eight of the drivers for this particular motor carrier, Highway Star, Inc., kept falsified logbooks, which strongly suggests that the carrier encouraged this illegal practice. In that the carrier, again according to FMCSA, scheduled the drivers for trips which would require the drivers to exceed the permissible number of hours, the carrier’s apparent knowledge is even more obvious. The FMCSA made similar findings in the Tennessee tractor-trailer crash which killed two and injured six.

We’ve said it repeatedly: there are some really good, really legitimate, truly safety conscious trucking companies out there. These companies deserve the public’s admiration and respect for doing an important job well, a dangerous job carefully. At Traywick & Traywick–and, most likely, at industry groups–we only wish that responsible motor carriers were the rule rather than the exception.


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