Indiana State Police inspectors say approximately 25 percent of the trucks traveling on Indiana’s state highways in the state’s northwestern Lake and Porter counties, from 2003-2008 were beleaguered with serious safety defects risking the safety of travelers and truck drivers alike. In a January 8, 2012, article in The Northwest Indiana Times, Marc Chase reports “faulty brakes and driver fatigue top the truck safety risks” plaguing the Midwest trucks and truck drivers in Northwest Indiana according to the Indiana state police inspectors’ report.
Results of a six-year study of truck traffic through highways crossing only two Northwest Indiana counties, showed 1 out of 4 heavy trucks had major safety violations, i.e., violations serious enough to remove the trucks from service. Scott Fleming, supervisor of state police heavy-truck inspectors for the region, noted much of the data in the study were gathered through random checks at Indiana’s truck weighing stations and says the results “only scratch the surface of the safety problem of potentially unsafe trucks operating on region’s roadways.”
Federal and state police inspectors found 12,931 brake violations during the same study, placing brake-related violations in the top 10 of all violations. Any discussion of faulty brakes and trucks also involves stopping distances. Fleming explained, “The more the weight of a car or truck, the longer the distance required for it to stop.” According to the National Safety Council’s Defensive Driving Course for Professional Truck Drivers, a fully-loaded 80,000-pound truck traveling 65 miles per hour requires at least 525 feet to stop safely, which is 66 percent more distance than most automobiles, which require approximately 316 feet when traveling at 65 miles per hour to stop safely. And, if the truck is over-weight or has faulty brakes or both, do the math.
In addition to mechanical vehicle safety violations, the problem of driver fatigue was also high on the state police inspectors list of violations. By federal law, heavy-truck operators must complete logbooks recording their hours worked and all breaks. Federal regulations limit heavy-truck drivers to 11 hours of continuous driving within a 24-hour period before they must take a 10-hour break. The heavy-truck inspectors in the two Northwest Indiana counties recorded 10,376 violations related to missing or faulty driver log books or drivers who went over the federal standard for consecutive hours worked without a break. “In Northwest Indiana, more than 1,400 violations were recorded over six years for truckers operating their rigs beyond the 11-hour regulation, inspection records show.”
We have to wonder how much of a template the experience with truck safety of these two Northwest Indiana counties is for the rest of the U.S. Having experience with trucking cases and litigation, these problems are by no means unique to Indiana, or any one state. Because states do not have the money or manpower to enforce federal or state trucking safety regulations, it is incumbent upon the trucking companies to ensure their trucks are properly serviced and maintained, and that their drivers are qualified and observe safety procedures and regulations. Interstate commercial trucking companies are responsible for ensuring that they and their drivers follow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Unfortunately, in an effort to save money, many do not abide by the rules all of the time, or even some of the time.