Recently, a new batch of statistics has emerged from research done by the American Association for Justice (AAJ) regarding motor carrier safety violations. Violations found include such unsafe practices as "overloading trucks, allowing unqualified or untrained drivers behind the wheel, failing to maintain tires and brakes, and salary systems that encourage truck drivers to exceed speed limits and maximum driving hours."
AAJ reports that 9 million trucks occupy U.S. roadways each year. And, although they represent less than 4% of all passenger vehicles, they make up 12% of vehicles involved in motor vehicle fatalities, with 4,000 people dying every year from accidents involving collisions with trucks. The most distressing part about these figures is that most of these violations result from companies trying to cut corners and maximize profits; most of these accidents are preventable, if not largely resulting from judgment errors.
In April 2009, the AAJ found that there were more than 28,000 trucking companies, with over 200,000 trucks (collectively) driving on U.S. roads, incurring thousands of violations – "defective brakes, bald tires, loads that dangerously exceed weight limits, and drivers with little or no training or drug and alcohol dependence." The real issue at hand is that, to other motorists, these problems are impossible to detect. One simply cannot tell that the truck riding in front of it, the one doing 75 in the left hand lane, has defective brakes and bald tires until it’s too late. This is exactly what happened to young, "newly-commissioned Army officer" Matthew Giuliano.
Matthew drove directly into the back of a truck that, earlier, was having air brake issues due to a small eroded hole caused by a dragging hose. The drivers – a husband and wife duo – repaired the malfunction with a toothpick and electrical tape.
A toothpick. And electrical tape.
It was only a matter of time before such a jury-rigged repair gave way, and, somewhat predictably, it did. Sadly, there was no way for Mr. Giuliano to avoid the accident that took his life. However, it could have been easily avoided if the drivers of that truck stopped at any of the repair shops they passed in the two hours between their makeshift solution and the time of the accident.
Reportedly, it would have cost them $12.
Even more disheartening is the fact that the dispatcher for the trucking company commended them for their thriftiness and quick-thinking. For some reason, one would like to think that a driver – a professional driver – would know better than to employ such unproven Boy Scout heroics on the forty-ton metal missile he’s driving. More so, one would like to think that the checks-and-balances in place would tell him he was off base.
Now, while this may have been a case leaning on the extreme shoulders of the "miserable judgment" scale, it doesn’t change the fact that the method of thinking apparently used by the two drivers in Mr. Giuliano’s case appears to be part of a greater collective consciousness that envelops a large part of the trucking industry: time over safety.
What’s worse is that smaller trucking companies will rarely spring for more than the minimum required insurance coverage – $750,000 – a number that hasn’t change in almost 30 years. The AAJ’s research indicates that 87% of the companies in violation are operating fleets of 10 trucks or less. This number, relative to the number of accidents each year involving trucks, seems to call for a change in that minimum, considering the number of victims that are forced to rely on Medicare/Medicaid to pick up the slack.
Similarly, the AAJ cites Florida trucking company Benton’s Express, who had a driver come to it and complain about his regularly overloaded truck and its difficulty to control. That was until he blew out a tire in 2004, leading to an investigation that found several companies in the Florida area who routinely faked paperwork in order to get away with illegally overloading their trucks.
It all ties back to this theme of time over safety. It is easier (unsafe) to load a truck with product beyond its maximum, so that it takes fewer trips to move said product, than it is to safely (not as easily) transport the maximum number of product until the product is fully delivered.
Furthermore, the AJJ states that its research concluded that "A 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that ‘nearly one-third of commercial motor vehicle crashes that states are required to report to the federal government were not reported, and those that were reported were not always accurate, timely, or consistent.’" In addition, companies that incur a large number of violations or particularly severe violations often change their names, coming back as "reincarnations." Such is the case with Iguala BusMex Inc., which was a new company waiting for approval for a federal license when one of its busses crashed after it blew a tire and ran into a guard rail, killing 17 passengers. A later investigation revealed that Iguala BusMex was incorporated and owned by the same individual as Angel Tours Inc., a company that was shut down after accruing a large number of violations.
The research done by the AAJ was compiled and can be found at: www.justice.org/trucksafetyviolations. It includes all 28,274 trucking companies with violations and is broken down by state. The AAJ states that "All of the listed companies have either conditional or unsatisfactory safety ratings. A conditional rating means that the truck company’s records indicate the truck was out of compliance with one or more safety requirements. An unsatisfactory rating means that the truck company’s records indicated evidence of substantial noncompliance with safety requirements."
In addition to these figures, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance conducted its own set of comprehensive roadside inspections in June 2009. It announced the inspection dates four months ahead of time, giving plenty of warning for companies to address problems. These dates were publicly aware within the bounds of the trucking industry. Regardless, 22.2% of the trucks inspected failed and were taken out of service.
"Even still, Bill Graves, President and CEO of the American Trucking Association (ATA), said the results ‘illustrate the trucking industry’s deep commitment to the safety of all motorists.’"
This writer has represented many victims (and families) of tractor-trailer crashes. Some of the driver "training" (or lack thereof), maintenance (or lack thereof), and supervision (or lack thereof) I have seen is astounding. Suffice it to say that, whenever I am on a highway and happen to be in the vicinity of a tractor trailer, I try to get out of the vicinity as safely and quickly as possible.