Recently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) released a crash accountability study that focused on whether incorporating Police Accident Reports (“PARs”) in its crash fault weighting system would improve the Agency’s ability to target carriers most at-risk for crashes.

The report focused on crash accountability in the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (“CSA”) Program.  CSA safety is analyzed through the Safety Measurement System (“SMS”), which quantifies the safety performance of motor carriers through State-reported crash and inspection data.

After reviewing 10,892 PARs, the FMCSA concluded that PARs are useful for determining fault in fatal crashes.  However, the study determined that PARs are not useful for determining a motor carrier’s future crash risk.

Trucking companies now have access to technologies which can dramatically improve the safety of their operation, safe on fuel costs, and provide accurate feedback concerning the conduct of their drivers.  For example, products like “Smartdrive” utilize a multi-camera computer interface to simultaneously capture video footage of the driver’s actions within the cab of the truck and a driver’s-eye view of the path of travel, and combine it with other computer feeds from the truck itself to produce a real-time record of what is happening with any given truck.  Though such systems, a trucking company’s safety director or fleet manager can track the location of a truck, the g-forces applied on the truck by the driver’s actions, engine and vehicle data (such as vehicle speed, engine RPMs, hard braking events, etc.), active safety system data (such as following distance, lane departures, etc.), and other similar data.

As a trucking lawyer at Stark & Stark, my question to the industry is why aren’t systems such as “Smartdrive” in broader use?  Perhaps the answer lies in the impact the data from these systems can have in litigation.  They have the unique ability to show exactly what was or wasn’t done by the truck driver.  They can allow for a completely accurate reconstruction of a crash – one which eliminates the ability of a driver’s selective memory to create opportunities for the company to defend its wrongful actions.

However, the fact that trucking companies (and the public at large) should be focusing on, is that data from these systems can also be used to improve everyone’s safety.  Companies which employ these systems and utilize technology have the ability to improve driver training and to identify dangerous drivers.  As such, these systems can be used by the trucking industry to help stop crashes before they happen! 

More information on “Smartdrive” can be found here.

Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations, commercial truckers are required to conduct pre- and post-trip inspections of their vehicles in order to identify and document safety defects and maintenance concerns.  Previously, truckers were required to complete Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (“DVIRs”) documenting the results of their inspections.  Trucking companies were required to retain the DVIRs.

As of December 18, 2014, truckers are no longer required to complete DVIRs, if they do not find any problems with their vehicle.  Although eliminating no-defect DVIRs will reduce paperwork costs for the trucking industry, it will come at the expense of safety.  Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety cautioned that eliminating DVIRs will have a negative impact on public safety.

The trucking industry is heavily regulated.  Unfortunately, those very regulations, which exist to insure the safety of the motoring public (that’s you, me and everyone else on the road), are frequently ignored by trucking companies, large and small, often with devastating results.  When a person is injured in a crash with a tractor trailer, the qualifications of the driver to operate the vehicle, and the steps taken by the motor carrier to qualify him/her, should be a primary area of inquiry by any trucking attorney.  And the best evidence of this is frequently found in the driver qualification file.

Motor Carriers are obligated to explore the background and training of any person hired to operate their trucks.  And, they are required to maintain a record of the results for duration of the driver’s tenure of employment.  This is known in the industry as a “driver qualification file”.  Given that these documents are required by law, and are spelled out in great detail by the regulations the trucking industry is acutely familiar with, one would presume that every company would have a complete file for each driver, right?  Unfortunately, in my experience, this rarely proves true.  I am frequently astonished by the important documentation which is missing from driver’s files, and this often serves as a marker for the care and attention a trucking company takes toward cultivating competent drivers.

The following documents should exist in every driver’s qualification file:

  • Driver-specific application for employment (§391.21);
  • An original motor vehicle record requested within 30 days of hire (§391.23);
  • Documentation proving the driver’s qualifications to operate [this may be in the form of a road test (company road, (§391.31(g)), or a road test certificate conducted by another motor carrier within the past 3 years (§391.33(a)(2)), or a photocopy of a CDL accepted in lieu of road test (unless the person is hired to operate doubles, triples, or tankers)]
  • Results of the background investigation on the driver (§391.23 & §391.53 ) including:
  • For drivers hired before October 30, 2004: Employment verifications sent to all former employers for the 3 years prior to the application date or a record of a good faith effort;
  • For drivers hired on or after October 30, 2004: Safety Performance History data from all former DOT-regulated employers for the 3 year period preceding the application or a record of a good faith effort.
    • If applicable, copies of any driver rebuttals to the Safety Performance History data and responses to the rebuttals from the former DOT-regulated employers.
  • The driver’s medical certificate (§391.43(g) (or equivalent)
  • A waiver of a physical disqualification, if applicable (§391.49(j)
  • The driver’s annual motor vehicle record (§391.25);
  • A record of the driver’s annual review of his/her driving record (§391.25);
  • A list of the driver’s moving violations on an annual basis (§391.27).
  • Combination vehicle training certificate, if applicable (§380.401);
  • Entry-level driver training certificate, if applicable (§380.509(b)).

In certain situations, additional or differing documentation may be required and/or may exist.

Despite the American public’s overwhelming opposition to increasing the number of hours that a truck driver can work each week, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) has introduced legislation that would increase truckers’ weekly hours from 70 to 82.  The “Collins Amendment” is currently before the Appropriations Committee.

In a recent poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, 80% of those surveyed oppose longer work weeks for truck drivers and would feel less safe if truck drivers are allowed to drive 82 hours, as opposed to 70.  The American public has good reason for concern as fatigued driving is one of the leading causes of fatal and catastrophic truck crashes.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) studies have revealed that 65% of truck drivers often or sometimes feel drowsy while driving and nearly 50% of truckers admit that they have actually fallen asleep while driving within the last year.  It is estimated that the current hours-of-service rules will prevent approximately 1,400 truck crashes each year, which will save 19 lives, avoid 560 injuries and save hundreds of millions of dollars from fewer crashes and improved driver health.

As a Personal Injury attorney in New Jersey, I have seen many people suffer from injuries due to a truck accident. We need to make the roads a safer place. The proposed legislation  ignores the voice of her constituents and the American public and makes the roadways significantly less safe for all of us. If you have been injured by a trucking accident in New Jersey, contact Stark & Stark for a free consultation.

 

As you may have previously read on this blog, or seen elsewhere in the news, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is currently considering new regulations that would raise the federal minimum insurance requirements for trucks and buses. Approximately 4,000 people die in truck crashes each year.  Studies have revealed that a fatal truck crash often costs over $4.3 million, but truckers are only required to maintain insurance policies of $750,000. This insurance requirement was set over 30 years ago and has never been adjusted. “Outdated insurance requirements allow trucking companies to skirt responsibility and leave injured motorists and taxpayers to pay the difference,” explained American Associate of Justice President Lisa Blue Baron.

Earlier this year, the FMCSA conducted its own study on the adequacy of the current minimum insurance requirements.  In its report to Congress, the FMCSA concluded that the costs of injuries and fatalities arising from crashes far exceed the minimum insurance levels interstate operators are required to carry.

Last week, in an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule making (ANPRM), the FMCSA has presented 26 questions for comment, including inquiries related to adequate compensation for victims and the impacts of increasing the minimum levels of insurance. The initial comment period will end on February 26, 2015.  In hopes, the FMCSA will issue a proposed rule increasing the minimum insurance levels in the near future.

As a trucking attorney and consumer safety advocate, I am pleased to report that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) has recently announced that it is considering a rulemaking to increase the minimum levels of financial responsibility for interstate motor carriers, as well as rulemaking pertaining to broker and freight forwarders, trip insurance, bus brokers and self-insurance.  This important move is long, long overdue.

The federal government has imposed mandatory minimum insurance limits for all interstate motor carriers since the Motor Carrier Act was passed in 1980.  The Bus Regulatory Reform Act, passed in 1982, imposed similar regulations on passenger carriers.  The amount of coverage required by the current regulations varies depending on the type of cargo being hauled and the size of the vehicles involved.  General freight carriers are required to carry at least $750,000 in coverage, unless the vehicles being operated are less than 10,001 lbs (GVW), in which case the mandatory limits are reduced to $300,000.  Carriers hauling hazardous materials are subject to increased limits, which may be as high as $5,000,000 depending on the type of materials being transported.  Passenger carrier limits also vary, depending on the number of passengers involved.

At first blush, these limits may seem significant.  However, the sad reality is that they all too frequently fail to cover the medical costs and related damages which are inflicted by negligent motor carriers.  The simple truth is that the current limits may have sufficed in the 1980’s, when they were put in place. However, the financial burdens imposed by the catastrophic injuries negligent carriers cause have dramatically increased since then.  A change is needed to protect the public.

The FMCSA’s review of the appropriateness of current minimum financial responsibility requirements was required by legislation which President Obama signed in 2012.  The FMCSA’s report was issued to Congress in April, 2014 and concluded what we trucking attorneys have known for quite some time:  “that the current financial responsibility minimums are inadequate to cover the costs of some crashes.”  Among the report’s notable findings are the following:

  • “The Costs for severe and critical injury crashes can easily exceed $1 million”
  • “Insurance premiums have declined in real terms since the 1980s and inflation-adjusted premium rates have also declined over the same period.”
  • “Current insurance limits do not adequately cover catastrophic crashes due, in part, to the significant increases in medical costs associated with injury since the current minimum insurance levels were set in 1985.” As such, the “real value of insurance coverage has decreased” over the past 30 years and simply “does not cover as much of the cost of a catastrophic crash as it once did.”

For more information, the FMCSA’s announcement can be accessed here.

 

More than 3 decades ago, air disc brakes were introduced in North America. Air disc brakes offer significant safety advantages over drum brakes. Namely, the use of disc brakes results in shorter stopping distances, increased brake life and decreased maintenance expenses. Furthermore, air disc brakes are inherently self-adjusting, so a trucking company’s concerns over braking performance and out-of-adjustment violations are largely abated. Given the safety benefits and long term cost savings of disc brakes, European trucking companies, as well as other overseas operators, have made the conversion from drums to discs.

Despite the overwhelming safety advantages of disc brakes, Heavy Duty Trucking magazine estimates that 90% of heavy truck buyers in the United States are still choosing the less safe drum brakes. Why are trucking companies choosing to equip their fleets with less safe brakes? The answer is simple: profits over people. Although disc brakes may be less expensive over the long term, they are estimated to be more expensive by $800 to $1,000 per axle in upfront costs. In addition, trucking companies argue that disc brake systems add approximately 100 pounds per axle, which decreases profits.

Kirk Altrichter, the Vice President of Maintenance for Crete Carrier Corp. was quoted as saying, “there’s not enough justification to make discs worth it.” However, Mr. Altrichter has failed to address the importance of preventing crashes and saving the lives of truck drivers and innocent motorists who share the roadways with 80,000 pound trucks. As a commercially-licensed driver, I would want the best braking system available on my truck. As an attorney who previously defended trucking companies and now represents the victims of truck crashes, I would welcome fewer tragedies on our roadways caused by underperforming or out-of-adjustment brakes. As a husband and father, I would want my family to be sharing the roadways with commercial vehicles that are outfitted the safest braking technology available.

There is no justification for putting profits over people and the time is now for trucking companies in the United States to embrace and install air disc brake systems and make our roadways safer.

In the earlier morning hours of Saturday, June 7, 2014, a truck driver for Walmart, Kevin Roper, failed to observe slow-moving traffic ahead of his big rig and violently slammed into the back of a limousine bus on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Tragically, comedian James McNair lost his life in the crash and several others were severely injured, including the limousine bus driver, Tyrone Gale, and passengers Tracy Morgan, Ardie Fuqua, Harris Stanton and Jeffrey Millea.

As the investigation continues into how and why this horrible crash occurred, it appears that driver fatigue played a significant role in the crash. On June 9, 2014, it was announced that the truck driver had not slept for 24 hours prior to the crash. Accordingly, the trucker has been charged with vehicular homicide and multiple counts of vehicular assault.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations allow a trucker to work a total of 14 hours per day and drive no more than 11 hours. The Regulations also mandate that a trucker have a minimum of 10 hours off-duty between shifts. This time is supposed to allow a trucker to sleep.

While it remains to be seen if the Walmart trucker was in violation of the Hours of Service regulations, one thing is clear: this devastating crash could have been prevented and a trucker who had not slept for 24 hours should not have been on the road.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the deceased and with the families and individuals who were injured. Stay tuned for an update on this tragedy as the investigation unfolds and more details emerge.

Despite federally mandated limits on the number of hours commercial drivers are permitted to work on a daily/weekly basis, impaired driving, including fatigue-related impairment, continues to be a principal cause of serious accidents.  In fact, driver impairment was specifically identified as a factor in more than 15,000 truck/bus crashes in 2012 alone.

Commercial drivers are obligated to track their hours of service in log books which they keep in their trucks and turn in to their employers.  However, it is well known fact that drivers regularly violate the hours of service rules, often as a result of direct or indirect prompting by their employers.  Some drivers engage in outright fraud by purposefully doctoring the data in their driver logs.  As a result, lawyers and industry watchdog groups have been lobbying for change for quite some time.  Fortunately, the Federal Government now appears to be listening and taking action.

As part of its ongoing effort to enhance public safety, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has just announced a proposed change to its rules concerning these critically important driver’s logs.  The proposal includes changes which would require commercial truck and bus companies to use Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) in their vehicles.  Amongst the proposals chief goals, are improved compliance with existing safety rules restricting drivers’ hours-of-service, a reduction in the paperwork associated with tracking drivers’ hours-of-service, and improvement in the overall quality of drivers’ logbook data.

The proposed rule is expected to reduce the frequency of hours-of-service violations by making it harder for drivers to misrepresent their time on logbooks, and by making it easier for the FMCSA and law enforcement to detect fraud.

The full text of the proposed rule can be found here.

Several options are under consideration with this proposed rule-making, and the matter is open for public comment.  For more information on the Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rule-making on Electronic Logging Devices, click here.