We Need to Hold Trucking Companies’ Feet to the Fire
Truck accidents usually cause more catastrophic injuries, permanent injuries, and severe injuries than cars due to their dimensions and weight. Cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians are simply no match for the force of a truck in the event of a collision. While some truck accidents are the fault of truck drivers, the fleets and trucking companies that own and use commercial trucks have responsibilities too.
Trucking companies need to vet and educate their drivers. Companies need to regularly inspect and maintain their fleet. Trucking companies should take steps to ensure that they have the latest safety technology.
How dangerous are truck accidents?
A review of the September 2022 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration progress report indicates that more work needs to be done to hold trucking companies accountable. In 2021, more than 168,600 large trucks were involved in truck accidents, resulting in 5,332 deaths and more than 79,000 injuries.
Despite the large number of deaths and injuries, there were only about 11,900 investigations (resulting in approximately 26,700 warning letters). Around 8,900 acute/critical violations were discovered. In 2021, there were more than 2.7 million state roadside inspections.
What steps should the trucking industry be taking to investigate truck accidents?
As we’ve discussed before, trucking companies should be using detailed safety metrics and driver performance reviews to assess the safety of their fleet. Some of these metrics include vehicle crash data, public and internal feedback (both positive and negative), and using metrics to improve their fleet’s safety. Unfortunately, many trucking companies fail to use or understand these metrics – let alone assess how the metrics can lead to safety improvement measures.
Proper use of truck metrics (including speed, seatbelt use, cargo loading and unloading, idling time, acceleration and braking performance, and other metrics) should lead to informed decisions about maintenance, hiring practices, education for the drivers, and other safety policies.
While the FMCSA does provide assistance, there are limits to what the FMCSA can do. The agency doesn’t have enough employees to investigate the current level of half a million trucking companies. The FMCSA isn’t equipped to do all the vetting and pre-checking of truck companies that are required to ensure safety. The FMCSA is mostly responsive – they investigate when companies continually violate their rules or get into accidents. There’s also a constant question of how much federal agencies should be involved in regulations.
What is the FMCSA’s position on targeting unsafe motor carriers?
The FMCSA recently reviewed and rejected the “recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences to implement a new statistical model using Item Response Theory, or IRT.” In 2010, the FMCSA began a Safety Measurement System (SMS) program that analyzed data from “inspections, crash reports, and investigations to help FMCSA and its state partners identify and prioritize for intervention the motor carriers that pose the greatest risk to safety.” The SMS grades trucking companies in specific safety categories. In 2017, FMCSA (pursuant to demands from Congress) commissioned an independent study of the SMS program.
The independent agency, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), conducted the study. The NAS recommended that FMCSA consider using another system, Item Response Theory, or IRT. On further review, the FMCSA rejected the IRT model, though it claims the review of the IRT model helped the FMCSA better identify the new and improved safety measures it would use to evaluate trucking companies.
Some of these changes include changing the specific categories used to grade trucking companies, making changes to better compare similar motor carriers, adjusting when intervention is required, and other measures. For example, the new FMCSA motor carrier safety categories will include:
- Unsafe driving which includes violations of the controlled substance and alcohol laws
- Crash indicators
- Hours of service (hos) compliance
- Vehicle maintenance
- Vehicle maintenance: driver observed
- HM (hazardous materials) compliance
- Driver fitness
Vehicle maintenance, the largest area of violations, was divided into the two categories identified above.
Brandon Wiseman of Trucksafe Consulting stated in his analysis of the proposal, “While the FMCSA’s proposed revisions to SMS are not nearly as substantial as they would have been had the agency adopted an IRT model, they still have the potential of significantly impacting the way motor carriers are prioritized for enforcement.”
Lawyers do what regulations cannot
Phelan Petty does what agencies cannot. We hold trucking companies responsible where it hurts most – their bottom line. When investigations, fines, and other remedies fail to send a message to trucking companies that they need to prioritize public safety, a strong settlement or verdict does. Moreover, a strong settlement or verdict also helps and protects victims of truck accidents.
We demand compensation for our client’s current and future medical bills, lost income and benefits, pain and suffering, scarring and disfigurement, loss of function, property damage, and other losses. Each settlement and verdict costs defendants money and increased insurance rates. We represent drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicycle riders who have all types of serious injuries including traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord damage and paralysis, burn injuries, broken bones, internal organ damage, and traumatic amputations. We file wrongful death claims on behalf of families when a loved one dies.
The reality is that there are many safety measures motor carriers should implement that are much less costly and much safer than paying large settlements and verdicts for their negligence.
Phelan Petty understands how crushing any injury is, especially if you live with long-term or permanent pain; or if a parent, spouse, or child died in a truck accident. We work aggressively to determine how truck accidents happen and who is responsible. We work with your doctors to understand the full scope of your injuries. To arrange a free consultation, call us or use our contact form. Our Richmond-based truck accident lawyers represent personal injury victims across Virginia.
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Michael Phelan is a Virginia trial attorney who practices with a special focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases, pharmaceutical and medical device claims, product liability cases, and truck accidents. Michael’s peers have consistently recognized him for his excellence as a trial lawyer, and his clients have praised him for his commitment to deep research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication.