The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) monitors data concerning truck accidents in the United States and uses that data to determine whether additional safety regulations are warranted.  Unfortunately, recent data show a disturbing trend.

Truck accident data for calendar year 2011 were recently released by the FMCSA.  They show over 3,300 people lost their lives in truck-related accidents, and another 60,000 individuals were injured. This reflects a 7% increase as compared to the data from 2010, and has caused the FMCSA to announce that additional safety regulations may be needed.  As a trucking accident lawyer, I whole-heartedly agree.

Review of the accident data reveal that speed-related issues were among the most common causes of collisions involving large trucks. As such, the FMCSA is reportedly now pushing for measures such as the installation and use of speed governors on commercial trucks.  Predictably, industry groups are pushing back and lobbying against additional restrictions and regulations.

Limitations on the number of hours commercial drivers can operate, and the frequency of their driving sessions, have existed for many years.  However, despite these limitations, statistical data continued to demonstrate that driver error – particularly fatigue based errors – remained a major problem in the trucking industry.  As such, in the summer of 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) implemented new regulations which changed the hours of service limits for commercial vehicle operators.

The purpose of the new regulations is to insure drivers have a meaningful opportunity to get the rest they need and thereby lessen the probability that they will be involved in fatigue-based accidents.  In summary, the revised regulations provide that:

  • Truckers cannot drive in excess of 11 hours, in total per day, or in excess of 8 hours at a stretch without taking a 30 minute break
  • Truckers cannot work in excess of 14 hours per day
  • Truckers cannot work in excess of 70 hours per week.

Further, given that the effects of fatigue can be cumulative and particularly dangerous if large blocks of hours are strung together, the regulations provide that drivers have rest periods totaling at least 34 hours per week, which must include two separate spans where they are resting from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m.

Unfortunately, I and my fellow trucking attorneys can attest to the fact that the hours of service regulations are frequently violated.  Why?  One likely reason is the way the trucking industry typically pays its drivers:  By the mile, as opposed to by the hour.  This scheme creates incentives for truckers to violate these important safety regulations.  And, in some instances, unscrupulous trucking companies actually encourage or even require their drivers to exceed the federal limits.  Unfortunately, it is the public at large which pays the price.

What can you do?  If you see violations occurring, I urge you to be a part of the solution.  Speak up.  Report it.   How, you ask?  The FMCSA maintains a toll-free hotline, called the “The Motor Carrier Safety hotline” which is available to everyone, including commercial vehicle drivers, to submit reports of actual or potential violations of the federal motor carrier safety regulations.

The number is: 1-888-DOT-SAFT (368-7238).  It is toll-free and available nationwide.  Violations can also be reported via the web at:  http://nccdb.fmcsa.dot.gov

For anyone interested, the text of the revised Hours of Service Rule can be found here

In the United States, trucking operations are subject to regulations imposed by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).  As a watchdog agency, the FMCSA is responsible for developing procedures which will increase public safety and decrease the frequency of trucking accidents.  The agency conducts annual inspections and audits of commercial vehicles, and is authorized to order unsafe vehicles off the roads until necessary repairs are completed.  If widespread problems or egregious violations are identified, the agency is also authorized to revoke a motor carrier’s operating certificate.

The FMCSA recently announced that it done just that with regard to one North Carolina based trucking company, ordering the carrier out of service due to the agency having observed repeated safety violations.  The FMCSA’s report of the decision cited that the company:

  • Failed to properly maintain its vehicles
  • Failed to ensure its drivers were fully qualified
  • Violated federal rules governing screening drivers for alcohol and drugs
  • Failed to enforce hours of service regulations which place limits on the number of hours drivers spend behind the wheel

With this most recent order, the FMCSA has now ordered 11 companies off the road since January of 2013.  We applaud the efforts of the FMCSA to help keep the citizens of this country safe from irresponsible trucking companies.

As a trucking lawyer, I see a bigger issue from these data.  There have been at least 11 companies who were willing to so flagrantly and repeatedly violate the federal safety regulations that they deserved to have their federal charters revoked!  Despite tougher regulations, the frequency of accidents has been on the rise of late — a fact which strongly suggests that these 11 carriers are not an anomaly.

Sadly, our federal regulators are overworked and understaffed.  As such, it is up to all of us to keep the roads safe.  If you see a violation or an unsafe act by a trucker, report it.  Also, if you or someone you love has been injured in a truck accident, take action.  Speak to an experienced personal injury attorney immediately.

Proposed Changes to the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) gathers various data on the trucking industry, including statistical data concerning carrier citations. The citation data is accumulated through the FMCA’s “Motor Carrier Management Information System” (MCMIS). The FMCSA has recently announced that it will be changing the way the MCMIS accepts adjudication information concerning citations associated with: (1) violations that were dismissed or resulted in a finding of not guilty; (2) violations resulting in a conviction of a different or lesser charge, or (3) violations resulting in conviction of the original charge. While the stated purpose of the change is to “improve roadside inspection data quality” and to “provide more uniformity in the way the inspection violation data are treated”, attorneys and some industry watchdogs have voiced concerns. Specifically, it is feared that the change may create an unjustified “appearance of safety” for some carriers and that the quality of the roadside inspection data may actually be lessened due to a skewing of the data caused by the impact of plea deals, the whims of local prosecutors dismissing important charges, and other similar factors. The proposal is currently open for public comment. Interested persons and parties are encouraged to voice comment and concern.

The text of the rule can be found here.

Limited visibility is a factor which all motorists deal with, and blind spots exist with most vehicles. However, due in part to the sheer size of a commercial truck, the hazard of the blind spot is particularly pronounced with tractor trailers.

When turning right, the length of these trucks requires the driver to actually swing the vehicle out to the left in order to initiate a proper turn. Further, to guarantee clearance of obstacles on the right side of the truck, the driver may also be required to pull past the origin point of the intersection in order to complete his/her right hand turn. The mechanics of this process and the limited visibility for the driver creates a hazard for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists alike. Understanding what the truck will have to do is often the best way to avoid an accident. So stay alert and refrain from crowding a truck when you are at an intersection.

While driving along the roads behind a commercial truck, pay particular attention to the mirrors. The rear corners of a tractor trailer and the space immediately behind the truck are blind spots. Truckers have an obligation not to drive their rigs into a space which they cannot see. However, they cannot control the actions of the drivers around them. So be proactive and protect yourself. A good rule of thumb is to remember that if you cannot see the trucks mirrors, the driver probably cannot see you! Try to make certain you remain where you can be seen!

Distracted driving is a menace. There is no other way to say it. Studies have shown that a driver who is distracted from the road by their cell phone, texting, surfing the internet, etc., are as dangerous to others on the roadway as a drunk driver. This negligent behavior by drivers creates a hazard to everyone, but the risks associated with that conduct is magnified when the offending driver is piloting a tractor trailer or other commercial vehicle.

In an effort to increase safety through awareness, I and my colleges have written extensively on this subject in the past. Please click here to read our previous posts about distracted driving. However, the problem continues to persist, and recent headlines provide another chilling example of the magnitude of the hazard presented by a distracted commercial driver.

On May 6, 2013, Juan Espinoza, a commercial trucker, slammed into the rear of several parked police and fire vehicles which had responded to an earlier roadside accident. Although the weather was clear, the roadway was straight and level, and the accident site was in the desert with no sources of distraction, Espinoza never slowed his vehicle or attempted to change lanes before slamming into the back of the parked cars at 65 mph. How did this happen? Why did Espinoza fail to see and avoid the parked police and fire vehicles? He was on Facebook, using his cell phone to view pictures of “scantily clad women.” Espinoza reportedly told police he was distracted by a passing vehicle, but his dash cam video shows this claim was not true, and review of his cell phone records reportedly confirmed that he was on Facebook at the time of the crash.

An Arizona police officer was killed in the tragic accident. Espinoza is now facing multiple criminal charges, including murder in connection with the crash. A portion of the dash cam video of this dramatic crash can be seen on the ABC website here.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a serious, potentially life-threatening breathing-related sleep disorder which causes interruptions in breathing of 10 seconds or more during sleep.  These interruptions may occur as often as 400 times per night.  The disorder produces myriad symptoms, including daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, memory impairment, depression, and irritability.  For reasons which should be obvious, these symptoms are dangerous and potentially deadly in commercial drivers.  How dangerous?  At least one study by the FMCSA has shown that OSA caused driving performance impairments similar to driving with a blood alcohol concentration over the federal limit applicable to commercial vehicle operators.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has estimated that as many as 28 percent of commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders have sleep apnea. You can find the link to this study here. The FMCSA has spent years trying to revise its current guidelines for OSA which are widely considered to be “vague and out-of-date”.

Fortunately, reports out of Washington indicate that Congress has now passed legislation which clears the way for the FMCSA to impose new requirements pertaining to driver sleep disorders and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) through the formal rulemaking process.  The bill passed the senate in late September and was unanimously approved by the Senate on October 4, 20113. The president is expected to sign it.  The FMCSA has not said when a new rulemaking might begin.

In an effort to reduce distracted driving, a private company based in California, “Telogis, Inc.”,, in partnership with another company called “Cellcontrol”, has reportedly developed a system which blocks driver’s access to apps and text messaging while they are operating their vehicles, and thereby “helps drivers resist the temptation to use mobile phones, laptops or tables while their vehicles are in motion”.   Read more

Anyone who has read my blogs or those of my colleges who represent people and families who have suffered harm at the hands of negligent truckers and trucking companies, know that there are several reckless behaviors in the industry which arise frequently and place us all at risk.  Examples include driving while excessively fatigued, aggressive driving and distracted driving. 

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In order to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate trucking, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCA) requires drivers to submit to a medical certification process and to be cleared to safety drive.  Motor carriers are obligated to verify that drivers they employ have a current medical certificate and to keep copies of the certificates in their drivers’ files.  The scope of the regulations require truck drivers to be medically qualified not only to operate the vehicles safety, but also to perform all inspection procedures related to its operation which are required for safety.   Examples include the ability to check the stability of the load being hauled, the ability to physically verify that one’s load is properly secured, as well as being physically fit enough to perform a complete and thorough pre and post trip inspection of the tractor, trailer and related safety systems.  Certain health conditions will render a driver disqualified to operate the vehicle.  Examples include epilepsy, insulin use, medical marijuana use, hearing and vision loss (for a more complete list, see 49 CFR 391.41).

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