Monday’s Huffington Post contained an article entitled “Trucks are getting more dangerous and drivers are falling asleep at the wheel. Thank Congress.” This article is described as “the inside story on how the trucking industry and politicians have conspired to make our highways less safe.”

The article in question highlights the catastrophic collision and injuries suffered by Illinois State Trooper Douglas Balder when his police vehicle was struck by a flatbed due to the driver’s fatigue. It then draws a link between this specific instance and Congress’ ongoing failure to protect the public from the negligent conduct of the trucking industry.

More specifically, the article outlines how Congress has been caving to lobbyists from the trucking industry that want to roll back, block, and/or modify at least a half-dozen safety regulations.

While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has recognized the mounting evidence demonstrating that sleep apnea has caused perilous levels of fatigue to drivers, pilots, train engineers, and others who need to remain alert at work, trucking lobbyists have been successful in persuading the FMCSA to back off and ultimately withdraw its proposed rules that would have required over weight truckers to get checked for sleep apnea.

To further compound this egregious conduct, trucking industry lobbyists “approached allies in Congress to write a law that would require the agency to follow the longer, more cumbersome formal rule making course.”  This was done to slow the FMCSA from enacting more stringent rules that would make our highways safer.

If you were involved in a trucking accident, it is strongly recommended that you seek experienced counsel immediately.

The Obama administration today is proposing training standards for entry-level commercial truck and bus operators, as mandated by Congress as part of MAP-21.

In a statement, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called it a “major step towards ensuring that commercial vehicle drivers receive the necessary training required to safely operate a large truck or motorcoach.”

Specifically, those seeking a “Class A” commercial drivers license would have to have no less than 30 hours of training behind the wheel from a program that meets minimum FMCSA standards. This also includes at least 10 hours of practice driving.

For a “Class B” commercial driver’s license, applicants would have to have at least 15 hours of training behind the wheel and seven hours on a practice range.

The new standards would apply to any first-time CDL applicants, those with a current CDL license seeking an upgrade or additional endorsement, and anyone who had previously been disqualified from a CDL again seeking to be licensed. Military drivers, farmers and firefighters would continue to be exempt.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has posted on their website that on Thursday, January 21, 2016, that the FMCSA will publish a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to establish new methods for a motor carrier to be classified as unfit.

Under the NPRM, the 34-year old system of dividing commercial motor carrier’s safety ratings into three tiers—“satisfactory,” “conditional,” or “unsatisfactory”—would instead be replaced with a simpler designation of “unfit.” Carriers deemed unfit would have to improve safety levels or cease operations.

Other changes in the proposed rule are:

  • Carriers would be assessed monthly, using fixed failure measures that are identified in the NPRM. Stricter standards would be based on those from the agency’s Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) with a higher correlation to crash risk, which include examining unsafe driving, Hours-of-Service (HoS) compliance, and driver fitness.
  • Violations of a revised list of “critical” and “acute” safety regulations would result in failing a BASIC.
  • All investigation results would be used, not just from comprehensive on-site reviews.
  • A carrier would be proposed unfit by failing two or more BASICs through:
    1. Inspections
    2. Investigation results
    3. A combination of both

The carriers identified in the agency’s analysis have crash rates that are more than three times the national average.

Unfortunately, those marginal carriers that are currently rated as “conditional” will now be listed as satisfactory. This will make it difficult for brokers, shippers, and the general public to identify “high-risk carriers,” thereby making it more difficult to hold these carriers responsible when they injure and kill innocent victims on our highways.

If you were injured as a result of a trucking accident, it is strongly recommended that you seek experienced counsel immediately.

Yesterday, December 2, 2015, Congress released a report detailing the results of the bicameral agreement reached concerning the terms of the surface transportation reauthorization bill commonly known as the “Drive” Act or the “FAST Act” (“Fixing America’s Surface Transportation”). The original House and Senate proposals for the Act included a number of anti-safety provisions which were strenuously objected to by Public Safety Advocates, including Trucking Attorneys like myself. I pointed out some of the key problems with the initial proposal in a prior blog.

Fortunately, the Members of Congress serving on the Conference Committee listened to the facts and to the arguments presented for greater safety, and made a number of positive changes to the final bill.

Examples of these improvements include:

  • Removal of a section which provided exemptions to hours of service requirements for certain classes of truck drivers;
  • Modifications to the “teen drivers provision” such that there will be a limited pilot program and a greatly reduced volume of higher-risk drivers who are permitted to drive large trucks across state lines;
  • Removal of a provision designed to limit the liability of shippers and brokers who negligently hire unsafe trucking companies;
  • Removal of a proposed Amendment which would have prohibited states from providing additional meal and break protections for truck drivers; and,
  • Modifications to the language in the Act that will eliminate some of the hurdles the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) must navigate in making its determination as to whether minimum insurance limits for large trucks should be raised.

Unfortunately, not all of the anti-safety provisions were eliminated from the final bill. The bill still includes:

  • Vehicle weight limit exemptions for the shippers of logging products and milk products, and for large trucks powered by natural gas; and,
  • Provisions restricting public access to certain CSA scoring data, and implementing other procedures which may impact the Safety Management System (“SMS”) ratings maintained by the FMCSA for trucking companies.

While the bill is not entirely free of anti-safety provisions, I would like to extend a thank you to those Members of Congress who listened to the appeals for public safety and worked to improve the final bill.

On November 30th, the U.S. Department of Transportation published a Final Rule that will punish carriers, brokers, shippers, and all others who pressure truckers to violate federal safety regulations. This rule is designed to protect honest, law-abiding truckers and, in turn, the motoring public at large.

A trucker’s job is far from easy. On-duty truckers have to worry about inspecting and maintaining their equipment; following federal, state, and local laws; keeping themselves fit, well-rested, and alert; navigating through our congested and deteriorating roadways; and making safe deliveries. Oftentimes, these truckers are away from their homes and families for extended periods of time, which leads to additional stress. The last thing that truckers should worry about is being pressured by carriers, brokers, shippers, and any others in the supply chain to violate federal safety laws in order to increase profits for the trucking industry.

This new rule comes in response to truckers’ complaints that when they refuse to violate safety rules, such as the hours-of-service requirements, the trucking industry threatens to harm them economically. Specifically, the trucking industry will threaten to reduce their miles, reduce their loads, or impose other financial harms. Truckers, who are already underpaid, are unfairly forced into a catch-22: violate safety rules and needlessly endanger themselves and others, or put food on the table for their families.

Profit motivates the trucking industry, and the hope is that the financial penalties associated with the new rule will discourage the trucking industry from coercing truckers to violate safety rules. Under the new rule, any carrier, broker, shipper, receiver, or anyone else in the supply chain who attempts to force drivers to operate their vehicles when it would violate federal rules to do so will face fines of up to $16,000.00. The rule will go into effect on January 29, 2016, which is 60 days from its publication date in the Federal Register.

12/3/15 Update: “The FAST Act” Still Contains Anti-Safety Provisions

Members of the United States Congress are currently negotiating the final language of a transportation bill known as “the DRIVE Act.” This legislation will have a major impact on everyone using our nations’ roadways in the years to come.

The terms of the Act have been a subject of debate for some time now, and certain anti-safety provisions (such as the proposed increase in the maximum weight limit for commercial trucking) have been defeated. However, the current legislation still contains numerous provisions that must be removed because they present a threat to the health and safety of the public. Some examples include:

Continue Reading The DRIVE Act Still Contains Multiple Anti-Safety Provisions

A new piece of legislation, introduced by Representative Reid Ribble (R-WI), appears to ignore the findings of a recent U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) study and aims to increase the weight limits of large trucks. Opponents of the bill say that it will needlessly endanger the public and further damage our deteriorating transportation infrastructure, an argument that seems to be supported by the DOT study findings.

Representative Ribble’s bill, tagged by opponents as a “profits over people” measure, seeks to increase the federal weight limit for large trucks from 80,000-lbs to 91,000-lbs. In support of the bill, Representative Ribble appears to be relying on trucking industry-funded research that ignores the results of the DOT’s Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study (Study), which concluded that there should not be an increase in truck size and weight due to a lack of data.

The Study revealed that there is very little national information on the use of six-axle, 91,000-lb. trucks, since heavier truck configurations are currently only in use in Washington State. In Washington, these heavier trucks experienced a 47% crash rate increase, compared to standard truck weights. Additionally, the Technical Report of the Study showed that trucks in excess of 80,000-lbs had 18% more brake violations and a higher number of brake violations per inspection. Heavier trucks also have longer stopping distances and, when a crash occurs, the forces involved are significantly greater. According to the DOT study, Representative Ripple’s assertion that heavier trucks are just as safe as 80,000-lb trucks is statistically, and logically, false.

Heavier trucks are not only generally unsafe, but can also be damaging to our nation’s deteriorating roadways and bridges. The proposed legislation ignores the fact that 91,000-lb. trucks will violate the 1975 Bridge Formula, which established the maximum weight any set of axles on a motor vehicle may carry on the Interstate highway system. Further, unbiased studies show that increasing the weight of a truck by 10% increases bridge damage by 33%. Representative Ripple’s assertion that increasing truck weight will not increase damage to our transportation infrastructure is not supported by any unbiased research.

Finally, Representative Ripple claims that heavier trucks equal fewer trucks on the roadway, but history would disagree. Increases in truck size and weight over the last 35 years have never resulted in fewer trucks on American roads. There is no scientific or practical reason to believe that this trend will change.

At face value, this piece legislation seems to benefit only the trucking industry and puts the profits of that industry over the safety of the American people, including truckers and innocent motorists. One would hope that Representative Ripple’s colleagues in the House will put the safety interests of their voters first and veto this potentially hazardous bill.

It is expected that the final rule mandating the use of Electronic Logging Devices (“ELDs”) will be published shortly. The rule will take effect two (2) years after it is published in the Federal Register.

Under the proposed new rule, truck drivers who are required to keep duty status records will have to track their hours-of-service (“HOS”) with an ELD, which had previously been referred to as Electronic Onboard Recorders. The ELDs will effectively replace paper logs, which can be easily altered.

The Prohibition of Driver Coercion (“PDC”) rule is also set for publication on September 30, 2015. Although not specifically related to the ELD rule, it was designed to address an issue with the original ELD rule, which had been struck down by the court after its publication. The prior ELD rule, published in 2011, had been struck down after drivers complained that motor carriers and shippers would improperly use the ELDs to harass them and coerce them to violate the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSR”).

Continue Reading Two New Safety Rules Are Slated For Publication

On February 18, 2015, I wrote about a New York City-area scheme where three individuals helped as many as 500 people cheat on the Commercial Driver’s License (“CDL”) test. More recently, a multi-agency investigation in Florida has uncovered a similar scheme involving a commercial truck driving school. The Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General, the FBI, Homeland Security and the Florida Highway Patrol joined forces to uncover the plot, which enabled unqualified drivers to receive CDLs. Ellariy Medvednik, Natalia Dontsova, Adrian Salari and Clarence Davis were all charged in connection with the investigation. These people were affiliated with Larex, Inc., a commercial truck driving school that marketed itself to Russian-speakers online.

By way of background, an individual must possess a Florida driver’s license before attempting to obtain a Florida CDL. Only Florida residents can obtain driver’s licenses and, accordingly, Florida CDLs. The multi-agency investigation revealed that individuals residing outside of Florida would contact Medvednik to arrange for Larex’s services at the cost of approximately $2,000. Those out-of-state individuals would then travel to Florida to obtain a Florida driver’s license with the intention of returning to their home states immediately afterward. It is alleged that Medvednik, Dontsova and Salari conspired to provide false documentation which indicated that the out-of-state individuals resided with them, so that the unqualified drivers could obtain Florida driver’s licenses.

After providing the false residency certifications, Larex assisted the students with the additional requirements for obtaining a CDL. First, Dontsova, using covert communication equipment, provided answers to the students during the written portion of the CDL exam. Upon the successful completion of the CDL examination, the student would receive a commercial learner’s permit. Second, Larex hired Davis, a third-party tester authorized by the State of Florida, to administer vehicle inspection tests, basic control skills tests and road tests. The investigation revealed that Davis routinely passed and certified students who should have failed based on their test performance. As a result of Davis’s certifications, the individuals were able to obtain Florida CDLs. Medvednik compensated Davis approximately $75 per student above his posted rate. At least 600 individuals have been identified as utilizing Larex’s services with Davis as the third-party tester.

Consequently, we are sharing the roadways with as many 600 unfit, unqualified and incompetent commercial motor vehicle drivers, which is both an extraordinary and unnecessary danger. Hopefully, the unlawfully licensed drivers will be pulled off of the roadways before they can injure or kill innocent motorists.

Regardless of who is behind the wheel of another vehicle, the best way to protect yourself on the road is to be alert and aware of your surroundings and follow the rules of the road. If you’ve been involved in an accident, don’t hesitate to contact appropriate counsel for advice.

How many times have you been driving on the highway and been passed by a Tractor Trailer that was going 75-80+ mph? It probably happens more frequently than you think. Why should you care? Well, beyond the obvious dangers presented by a truck moving at that speed, there is a hidden danger as well – and it comes from the truck’s tires.

Many, if not most, heavy truck tires are designed for a maximum sustained speed of 75 mph. Driving a tire above its rated speed is a recipe for disaster, as the heat generated can cause the tire to break down and fail. Excessive speed has been linked to many blow outs and crashes. According to data maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), between 2009 and 2013 there were over 14,000 crashes in the United States which involved heavy trucks and buses, resulting in nearly 16,000 deaths. Tire failure was a reported factor in 198 of those crashes.

The trucking industry has complained that, in some instances, blowouts are related to manufacturing problems, citing a high volume of instances with certain tire brands/modes. However, investigations conducted by NHTSA into such complaints (concerning certain Michelin tires) revealed that the most likely cause in each instance was “driver error” – that is, drivers pushing the tires beyond their speed rating.

Some in the trucking industry argue that the problem is larger than simply “driver error,” as some 14 states currently have speed limits of 75 mph or higher (85 is permissible in some parts of Texas). However, the simple fact that the law permits travel at a specific speed does not mean it is safe for everyone to do so. A responsible trucker knows the limits of his/her equipment and takes care not to exceed those limits.

If you or someone you know has been involved in an accident with a tractor trailer or bus, it is recommended that you consult with legal counsel immediately to discuss your rights.