The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is continuing its campaign to prevent crashes by improving commercial truck safety. It recently issued a modification rule to allow voluntary placement of safety devices in the windshield area of cars and commercial vehicles. These safety systems are reputed to decrease driver errors and protect those on the road from catastrophic crashes and injuries. The FMCA has the authority to “regulate drivers, motor carriers, and vehicle equipment,” including regulatory power over commercial vehicle safety.
The Department of Transportation recently announced a proposal to add speed limiting devices to commercial trucks in an effort to improve highway safety. The devices would physically prevent trucks from exceeding a maximum speed—recommended at 60, 65, or 68 miles per hour. The rule would apply to commercial vehicles over 26,000 pounds with motor carriers responsible for maintaining the devices and enforcing the speed rules.
Every driver knows that cars must share the highways with commercial trucks. There isn’t a separate road system. Big rigs weigh upwards of 80,000 pounds and that puts passenger cars at a serious disadvantage in a crash. The weight of the vehicles and speed at impact sometimes result in multi-car pile-ups and almost always result in serious injury or death.
Have you ever seen a big rig parked on the shoulder of the Interstate? How about twenty of them? In the town of Mahwah, New Jersey, this is a daily occurrence. Every night truckers turn the shoulder of Interstate 287 into an improvised truck stop. This is both a nuisance and a danger.
The area where the truckers stop has steep inclines and the highway shrinks from three lanes to two, which is dangerous enough without big rigs blocking the shoulder. Truckers claim that they have no choice—the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) says they have to stop driving after 11 hours and that’s what they do—right there in the emergency lane of I-287. However, if trucking companies and truck drivers responsibly planned their routes, there would not be such a large number of trucks dangerously and illegally parked on the roadway each night.
We’ve all experienced it. You are driving down the freeway at 65 miles per hour in the middle lane. Suddenly a massive eighteen wheeler looms in your rearview mirror. Or one roars past you well in excess of the speed limit. Or, even worse, both trucks barrel down on you at the same time. It is intimidating and frightening to be in the path of an 80,000 pound big rig while driving in a 3000 pound car. Here’s why you should be frightened: that truck driver may be exhausted, on the verge of falling asleep, and about to crash into you or the cars around you.
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:
- Investigation results
- 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: