Tractor Trailer Trucks Must be Regulated

It should come as no surprise that stakeholders in the trucking industry – trucking companies, freight brokers, shippers, trucking associations and insurance companies – spend a lot of money lobbying Congress to de-regulate the trucking industry. And, unfortunately, they have been succeeding. These special interest groups have blocked Congress from raising the minimum required insurance coverage on an interstate tractor trailer truck above $750,000; they have gotten Congress to pass bills containing preemption language designed to eliminate injured victim’s rights to sue under State law negligence theories; and they have convinced Congress to force the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to hide from public view much of its safety data on individual trucking companies.

Commons sense tells us that this is all very bad news for public safety. Tractor trailer trucks are unique in that when loaded they weigh up to 80,000 pounds. It is imperative that these behemoths are well maintained and are driven safely by competent, alert, sober drivers. In just the past couple of months, there are examples from all over the country of the devastation that occurs when a regular size vehicle is involved in a tractor trailer truck crash. A couple of weeks ago a Maine pickup truck driver was hospitalized in critical condition as a result of a tractor trailer truck accident. A few days ago in Maryland, a tractor trailer truck ran right over and crushed a pick up truck. The point is that even large pick up trucks and SUVs don’t stand a chance against a tractor trailer truck.

The size issue is compounded when truck drivers are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or are fatigued from driving in excess of the permissible hours of service. Just days ago a tractor trailer truck driver from Las Vegas crashed his rig on a country road in Giles County, Virginia, and was charged with reckless driving for speeding and driver inattentiveness, i.e., fatigue or distraction. His passenger had to be airlifted to the hospital. In February, a Massachusetts tractor trailer truck driver thought it was a good idea to drink 6 beers before driving a rig loaded with cheese. Fortunately no one was killed or hurt in this truck crash, but it did cause a power outage, building fires, and extensive property damage. The driver tried to flee the scene and later denied that he was drunk. An 80,000 pound tractor trailer truck going 65 mph requires the length of almost two football fields to stop, and that’s with good brakes. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance found that 14.2 percent of 6,300 commercial trucks that were randomly stopped and tested in May 2015 had serious enough brake violations to put the trucks out of service. Our firm handled a case where a fly-by-night truck company operated its truck even though over 20% of the brakes on the tractor and trailer were inoperable (some were actually rusted open) and all of the tires were bald.

Whenever the government proposes a safety regulation affecting trucking, you can bet that powerful trucking industry organizations will oppose the regulation. Lat year, the government announced that it wanted to lower speeds on truck and bus drivers. Opposition to the proposal was predictable. Pay attention to the Congressmen and women who vote against common sense safety regulations, figure out what special interests are funding them, and challenge them to explain themselves. This cannot continue.