The harder the Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) attempts to clamp down on dangerous driving practices, the more trucking companies and drivers come up with ways around the new regulations.
The FMCSA is part of the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), which regulates commercial trucking companies and fleets throughout the United States. FMCSA’s mandate is to help reduce the number of accidents, collisions, injuries, and deaths caused by trucking accidents.
How Trucking Companies Skirt Safety Regulations
One of the oldest and still effective ways that trucking companies manipulate the regulations in place is through “reincarnation.” Motor carriers operate with blatant disregard for the safety rules and regulations. When the fines start to pile up, or they are ordered out of business, they comply.
They then reincarnate themselves as another company by going online, filling out a form, and paying a small fee. The USDOT then issues them a new registration, and they are back in business. The U.S. Department of Transportation has been working to prevent such practices. Still, it can be difficult when it is easy for a company to change names and easily establish itself as a new business.
Unfortunately, it often takes an accident to catch illegal trucking operators. The National Transportation and Safety Bureau is tasked with investigating accidents related to commercial trucking and bussing and has worked to urge the tightening of the registration process.
Software programs using enhanced artificial intelligence processes to compare new applicants to the list of motor carriers flagged for safety violations. New applicants flagged by the computer program are scrutinized more carefully, but many still slip through the cracks.
Manipulating Hours of Service
Mandated electronic logging devices have made it hard for drivers and their parent companies to disregard the mandated hours of service set forth by the FMCSA, but there are still ways to break the rules and ensure loads are delivered on-time.
The mandated hours of service are set in place to reduce driver fatigue, which is a significant contributor to trucking accidents. Unfortunately, electronic logging increased the number of accidents and fatalities. The electronic logging that forced drivers to drive fewer hours per day had the unintended consequence of increasing incidents of speeding and other unsafe driving practices. When drivers could no longer tamper with paper logs, they instead began to rely on unsafe driving practices to meet deadlines.
Electronic logging devices also force drivers to use their remaining driving time regardless of hazardous road or weather conditions. Given that pay, bonuses, and other rewards are closely tied with the distance a truck driver can cover, trucking companies continue to incentivize unsafe driving habits.
Failure to Properly Perform Random Drug and Alcohol Screenings
According to FMCSA regulations (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Title 49, Section 382.05), trucking companies are required to select and test drivers at a specified rate randomly. 50% of the average number of drivers must undergo drug testing, and 10% must undergo alcohol testing, but there is a startlingly large number of reports of companies falsifying records or giving undo forewarning of a test.
Negligent Hiring Practices
Though it has been an ongoing issue for some shady trucking companies, who underpay their drivers and want the cheapest labor possible, most trucking companies institute full background checks in compliance with FMCSA regulations.
However, the increased demand put on the trucking industry by the coronavirus pandemic has also lead to an increase in negligent hiring practices. Most truck drivers are skilled and trained professionals, but the few who are not and slip through the cracks pose a grave threat to others who share the road with them.
Trucking companies with negligent hiring practices often fail to conduct thorough background checks on drivers before hiring or overlook past violations such as DUI’s or moving violations. Some companies will also employ drivers with potentially dangerous health conditions such as poor vision. Companies either do not pull these medical records or ignore the information to let a driver continue working despite their health issues posing a risk to others.
Failure to Conduct Proper Inspections and Maintenance
The FMCSA requires that drivers conduct detailed inspections of their rigs before driving. Carriers should make periodic inspections by qualified inspectors, and forbid unsafe operation that could contribute to an accident or breakdown. The FMCSA maintains a list of what must be present and in good working order on a rig. Some of these include:
- Brakes and all related system components
- Safety equipment
- Signals and lights
- Coupling devices
Unscrupulous companies can easily falsify records to keep dangerous trucks on the road. The USDOT frequently does roadside inspections, but it is often more cost significant for companies to pay fines than to perform all preventative maintenance when it is due. It is not uncommon for inspections to place close to 10% of trucks out of service because of safety violations.
The Driving Force Behind Unsafe Practices
Why would trucking companies risk the potential liability of unsafe practices? The answer is simple. Trucking companies are in business to make money, and many safety rules and regulations can interfere with the amount of profit a company can make.
The practical reality is that most drivers who speed in an attempt to hit a specified delivery time do not cause accidents, and most rigs with overdue maintenance do not result in a catastrophic accident. Trucking companies are playing a dangerous game, betting on the odds being in their favor, for the sake of more profit.
Unfortunately, it is often not until a trucking accident results in serious injuries or death that trucking companies are held liable for their negligence.