Are Federal Motor Safety Regulations Enough to Keep Our Roadways Safe

Posted in truck accident on August 26, 2020

FMCSA regulations and the increase in accidents caused by commercial vehicles

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is in charge of establishing the rules and regulations that govern the trucking and busing industries. They have taken criticism for not doing enough to ensure carriers implement stringent risk mitigation practices to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities caused by big rigs and buses.

Despite instituting more rules and regulations, fatal crashes involving large trucks and buses increased by 8% in 2019, leaving many to wonder if the FMCSA is doing enough to keep the roadways safe.

In 2017, a sleep-deprived motorcoach driver caused a crash that killed 24 passengers. The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the crash and called for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to institute changes to both the passenger and freight industry.  During the NTSB investigation of this crash, they determined that the driver had an opportunity for approximately five hours of sleep in the previous forty hours.  You want an experienced truck accident law firm Atlanta residents trust to investigate and pursue the case.

The NTSB vs. The FMCSA

After that crash, and far too many like it, the NTSB called for the FMCSA to change the safety rating system, and place carriers with serious and ongoing safety issues out of service. The company that operated the motorcoach involved in the 2017 crash had failed eight of twenty-nine federal inspections in the past two years.

According to the NTSB, both the company’s safety practices and the FMCSA’s lack of proper oversight were contributing factors to the crash. The NTSB reiterated two recommendations that it had made to the FMCSA earlier:

  • Change the safety fitness rating methodology allowing the adverse driver or vehicle performance-based data are sufficient to result in rating the carrier overall as “unsatisfactory.”
  • When determining a carrier’s fitness to operate, include safety measurement system scores in the process.

The NTSB is not a regulatory authority. They cannot make rules or regulations. However, its mandate is to investigate crashes and make recommendations to various government agencies and industry leaders to avoid similar crashes.

The FMCSA’s Impact on the Trucking Industry

The trucking industry has a litany of unsurprising complaints about the FMCSA. Diving into the heart of these complaints, though, shows that many of them stem from rules and regulations that do little to keep professional drivers and other motorists safe, but instead, create busywork that detracts from innovative safety progress.

The allegations seem to be that the FMCSA has strayed from its mission to improve safety and provide new initiatives that delivered verifiable results, to an agency focused on bureaucracy and minor details that have little to do with safety or crash prevention. The trucking industry approached congress with a call for common-sense reforms.

Instead of more rules and regulations, the industry feels there should be clarity on existing regulations. Among industry leaders, there seems to be a cry for the flexibility that allows drivers to do their jobs efficiently, while reforms focus on safety instead of “paper-pushing.” The push for compliance results in carriers spending their time training drivers in how to fill out forms rather than safe driving techniques.

The mandate for Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) is a prime example of unintended consequences. According to a team of researchers from Northeastern University and the University of Arkansas, ELDs caused a spike in unsafe driving practices. There has been no evidence that ELDs helped to prevent accidents, but instead, truck accidents increased by 2,290 to 3,226 per year.

ELDs were mandated to increase compliance with hours of service (HOS) and were successful in doing so. However, because of increased HOS restrictions, drivers engaged in more unsafe driving practices such as speeding, resulting in an increase in accidents.

The American Trucking Association

The American Trucking Association (ATA) supports electronic logging devices, mandatory speed limiters that allow big trucks to go no faster than 65 mph, and electronic stability control. To encourage the FMCSA to use more “carrot” and less “stick,” the ATA suggests that incentives, such as providing expensive logging devices or speed regulators, or tax offsets for purchasing such equipment.

If the government would help carriers with exemplary safety standards that go above the minimum compliance with help in purchasing equipment recognized to improve safety, it becomes a win-win for everyone involved.

The overall thoughts of the freight and motor carrier industries seem to be that the FMCSA once worked with the industries it oversaw. Now, those days are over, and most of the FMCSA’s resources go to overseeing its bloated system instead of focusing on initiatives that improve safety across the trucking industry.

Trucking Industry Reform

In 2019, the NHTSA shared startling statistics that the first full year of mandated electronic logging devices saw fatal crashes involving large trucks increase by almost a full percentage point. Large truck occupant fatalities increased by 0.8%, marking the most deadly year since 1988. ELD’s are not the problem. Trucking companies that push drivers to meet delivery deadlines despite the strict regulation of hours driving push drivers to use unsafe driving practices to meet their demands.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (transportation.gov/trucking-and-motorcoaches) has found that the leading causation factors in accidents involving large trucks, the following were the most common contributing factors:

  • Truck driver fatigue
  • Speeding
  • Work-related pressure to meet delivery deadlines
  • Distracted driving
  • Brake or other equipment failures
  • Cargo shifting
  • Alcohol or drug use

Until the trucking industry is wholly committed to placing safety over the bottom line, rules and regulations will continue to be broken unless the penalties for doing so outweigh the potential gains.

FMCSA Training Standards

The FMCSA has promised a new driver training rule, requiring new drivers to meet new minimum training standards before obtaining a license to drive. There are no nationwide standards for minimum training for the men and women who operate large commercial vehicles. The minimum training regulation has been pushed back to at least 2022, citing concerns over straining state’s IT resources and placing a burden on licensing offices.

Most citizens are unaware that there are no federally mandated minimum hours behind the wheel of a big-rig, or a passenger bus, for a driver to obtain a CDL license. Despite the potential danger these vehicles pose, the minimum training currently required is vague and left to interpretation. According to the FMCSA, the driver must demonstrate proficiency on an open road and a driving range. The driver must also complete a training program that meets FMCSA standards.

The training programs referenced by the FMCSA regulation are for-profit schools, meaning money instead of safety is a primary incentive. Further, and an “open road” is a vague description that can’t come close to mimicking the real world, meaning that these big-rigs in the hands of inexperienced drivers with improper training remain a deadly danger.

Tobin Injury Law and Commercial Vehicle Accidents

18-wheelers, buses, and other commercial vehicles are subject to state laws, as well as the regulations and rules established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Accidents that involve these vehicles have the potential for catastrophic outcomes that can result in life-long injuries or fatalities due to the size of the vehicle. If you have been injured by a commercial vehicle, contact our experienced truck accident law firm Atlanta residents trust for a free consultation about your case at (404) 587-8423.

These vehicles operate under both federal and state law. Accidents involving injuries or death involve the driver of the commercial vehicle as well as the carrier who owns the vehicle, causing claims to become complicated.  Cases like this need a personal injury attorney with experience in commercial vehicle accidents. Our experienced truck accident law firm Atlanta residents trust has decades of experience in these types of accidents. We know what your case is worth, and we will fight to make sure you receive fair compensation for your damages.