In this Blog category you will find articles about big commercial trucks accidents with a motor vehicle and how to avoid them. Personal Injury suits and insurance claims may require the help of an attorney. A good lawyer can protect your rights under the law.
In August 2017 the administration put the brakes on a year-old effort to find ways to diagnose truckers who may have sleep apnea, a serious health condition linked to crashes.
In its zeal to block and limit regulations, the administration determined not to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on sleep apnea as a cause of truck crashes, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said that “the current safety programs” and other rules “addressing fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address the issue.”
FMCSA Delays Effort to Track and Treat Trucker Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is an often-undiagnosed disorder causing one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. When this happens, your sleep is interrupted repeatedly during the night, causing you to be tired during the day. Doctors usually can’t detect the condition during routine office visits, and no blood test can help diagnose the condition.
Truckers experiencing daytime drowsiness behind the wheel are a danger to themselves and other drivers on the road. Since 2009, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been calling for better screening of truck drivers, and for more than a year, federal officials have been working on guidelines for diagnosing sleep apnea in transportation workers.
Although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) says “A motor carrier may not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle if the driver has a condition, including sleep apnea, that would affect his or her ability to safely operate the vehicle,” at this time there are no federal regulations for tracking or treating sleep apnea in transportation workers.
Research Links Sleep Apnea to Truck Crashes
A study conducted in 2016 by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Morris, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that truck drivers with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) who failed to adhere to treatment had a rate of preventable crashes five times higher than that of truckers without the condition. The researchers estimated that up to 20 percent of all large-truck crashes result from drowsy or fatigued driving. The study’s findings suggest that, to continue driving, commercial truck drivers should be regularly screened for sleep apnea and required to treat it if they have it.
Sleep Studies Accurately Diagnose Sleep Apnea
Truck driving is a solitary job that can lead to being
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 4,000 people were killed in collisions involving underride between 1994 and 2014. Of that number, about 1,530 were related to side underride crashes. Recent tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that protective side panels at the bottom of trucks would prevent deaths from passenger vehicles sliding underneath.
In 2017, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ran two 35 mph crash tests, one with a side underride protection device from Airflow Deflector Inc. called an AngelWing and the other with a side skirt made of fiberglass meant only to improve aerodynamics, not prevent side underride. Those tests showed AngelWing side guards stopped passenger cars from sliding underneath, while cars that hit trucks equipped with only a fiberglass skirt did not stop and became lodged underneath the trailer, after the truck had sheared off part of the car’s roof.
David Zuby, executive vice president and chief research officer for IIHS said “Our tests and research show that side underride guards have the potential to save lives. We think a mandate for side underride guards on large trucks has merit, especially as crash deaths continue to rise on our roads.”
Regulators Delay Acting on Life Saving Side Underride Guards
Steel bars hanging from the backs of truck trailers called underride guards have been required on trucks since 1967 when a car slid beneath the back end of a big rig, instantly killing its driver. Due to the celebrity status of the car’s driver, media attention to the horrific crash prompted new federal regulations requiring protective underride guards on the back of all big rigs. Nothing, however, was done to prevent side underride crashes.
Fast forward to 2016, when Joshua Brown’s Tesla Model S fatally collided with the side of a big rig that sheared off the top of his sedan as it slid under the truck. Side underride guards on the truck would have stopped the slide, so that air bags and seat belt could have prevented his death.
Two Mothers Suffering Loss Seek Legislative Action
Mary Karth, mother of nine children, with a Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of Michigan has joined with another mother, Lois Durso in drafting legislation aimed at preventing underride crashes, called the Roya, AnnaLeah and Mary Comprehensive Underride Protection Act of 2017.
Platooning trucks digitally-connected, driving in formation boosts fuel economy, limits traffic congestion and improves highway safety, yet lack of uniformity of state traffic laws is holding back its widespread use.
What is Truck Platooning?
Platooning is a driving strategy that features trucks traveling in a line, connected using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology. The truck in front controls the braking, acceleration, and distance of following trucks, with the distance between trucks decreased to reduce wind resistance between them. This reduces drag on the truck in front and those in back, causing more fuel efficiency for all vehicles. Bicycle racers and auto race car drivers use this strategy, called Drafting or Slipstreaming, to increase speed.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in trials projects fuel/cost savings of 2.2 percent to 5.3 percent for trucks leading a platoon pack and 2.8 percent to 9.7 percent for trailing trucks. Michael Lammert, senior fleet test and evaluation engineer for NREL calculated a 4.2 percent reduction in total truck energy use and carbon emissions if adopted widespread.
Technology Advances Anticipating Nationwide Regulatory Uniformity
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) classifies six different levels of vehicle autonomy, based on the amount of necessary driver intervention. Level 0 uses no automation while Level 5, considered “high automation,” requires no human intervention with the vehicle fully self-driving. Truck platooning uses Level 1, requiring a driver to be ready to take control at any time.
Automated trucking innovator Peloton Technology in Mountain View, California has partnered with FEV North American Inc. to produce radar-based detection systems connected to its cloud-based operations center. Using GPS and radio-frequency identification technology, the program decides when weather, traffic, topography and other environmental factors are inappropriate for platooning, with the driver still in the equation as a highly skilled manager rather than laborer. With a video feed in the rear truck showing its driver what the lead driver is seeing, when another vehicle cuts into the platoon, the technology gives full manual control back to the rear driver.
Lack of Traffic Law Uniformity Delays Implementation
Already popular in Europe, platooning needs uniform state traffic laws in the U.S. for commercial deployment. Presently, state traffic laws regulating time and distance between vehicles vary or, in some states, do not exist. Some states use a “Reasonable and Prudent” standard, which requires a driver to keep enough space ahead, usually several hundred
The current administration’s goal to remove two existing regulations for each new one and cap the cost of new regulations, when applied to the trucking industry, may backfire. Many in the trucking industry believe that the government’s goal to eliminate “unnecessary rules” that supposedly are bad for business threatens the safety of truck drivers and other motorists who share the road.
Truck driver is one of the deadliest occupations in the U.S. From 2010 to 2015, truck driver fatalities rose 11.2 percent, with 745 drivers killed on the job in 2015. What makes this occupation so dangerous?
Long hours, low pay, and tough working conditions has a created an annual turnover rate of truck drivers to near 100 percent. Trucking industry experts say that the demand for rapid delivery due to the rise of online shopping has put more trucks on the road, contributing to higher incident rates for accidents and deaths. They say that the push to deliver the load, in too many cases, forces drivers to choose between productivity and safety. Due to de-regulation and de-unionization of the trucking industry, drivers have been incentivized by the pay-by-the-mile system to push themselves to maximize revenue from each shift, with more time driving and less time sleeping.
Administration Rolls Back Hours of Service Rules
The Hours of Service Rules for truck drivers set down by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 2013 limited a driver to work no more than 70 hours a week, with an eleven hour driving limit per day, and two consecutive 1am to 5am rest periods during a 34 hour restart. In December 2016, congress caused the FMCSA to suspend the requirement of rest periods.
The FMCSA pointed to research that showed that fewer rest periods coincide with less attentive drivers who were more likely to drift between lanes. Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa also came out strongly against the administration’s ruling, saying “It fails to recognize the benefit of well-rested truckers to overall highway safety. The rollback of these rules is short-sighted and one that could jeopardize the lives of Americans traveling on the nation’s thoroughfares. Truckers, like most of us, do their job better when they get proper rest.”
Trucker Sleep Apnea Study Halted
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been calling for better screening of truck drivers for sleep apnea since 2009. Sleep Apnea is a serious disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. Even brief episodes can disrupt normal sleep patterns and trigger fatigue and the need to sleep during the day.
In 2017, the Trump administration halted a year-old effort to seek better ways to screen truckers for sleep apnea, which has been linked to deadly accidents. According to a study released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), fatigue and sleep deprivation is the most common cause of truck accidents due to driver error.
Media reports of trucking companies in California forcing their drivers into debt and pressuring them to work up to 20 hours a day while paying them pennies per hour has caught the attention of a group of high-profile Democratic Senators and Representatives.
Senators Elizabeth Warren, Dianne Feinstein, and Kamala Harris joined Senator Sherrod Brown in sending letters to 16 top US retailers, requiring them to state what actions they have taken to identify and rid worker abuses from their supply chain by cutting ties with port trucking companies committing labor violations.
As federal legislators, the senators have drawn a line in the sand, stating their intent to aggressively pursue all federal avenues to ensure that all port trucking companies comply with state and federal laws that protect the economic security and health and safety of workers.
While Home Depot has changed trucking companies, no longer using those named, and some retailers say they have taken steps to identify abusive companies in their supply chain, other retailers have either said they were unaware of violations or are not responsible for monitoring contractors and subcontractors in their shipping operation.
Big companies doing business in California by law must disclose what efforts they make to monitor their overseas supply chain, but are not required to apply those standards to their U.S. shipping operations. In California, state Rep. Ricardo Lara said he is drafting a bill to change California law to require companies to disclose how they audit their operations at American ports.
Port Trucking Companies Accused of Modern-Day Indentured Servitude
To finance their fleet, port trucking companies use so-called independent drivers who must sign truck lease purchase contracts requiring them to pay all expenses for the use and maintenance of their trucks from the low wages they receive.
If they fall behind with payments or refuse to work up to 20 hours a day, beyond federally mandated limits on hours of service, the company can fire them, seize the truck and all money the driver has paid toward buying it.
Retailers Enable Port Trucking Company Labor Abuse
For over a decade, major US retailers have been able to ignore signs of port trucking labor abuses because there are no laws requiring them to police their U.S. shipping vendors or the subcontractors those vendors hire.
In fact, as port drivers continue to be treated as modern-day indentured servants, retailers have paid lobbyists tens of millions of dollars to fight bills that would protect the rights of truckers.
A lobbying group of retailers, shippers and trucking companies led by retailer Target called the Coalition for Responsible Transportation has even fought port trucking-specific bills that would have enabled agencies to punish trucking companies for violations of existing labor laws.
Drivers Seek Recourse with Labor Commissioner and Courts
In July, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon called on regulators to begin working with state officials to coordinate efforts to enforce labor laws, and said they may seek to compel federal and state coordination if the agencies do not quickly take steps on their own.
Meanwhile, drivers have had some success with filing complaints against port-trucking companies with the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement. In nearly half of those cases, the Labor Commissioner’s office determined that the drivers, working set hours for one employer, were in fact employees, not independent contractors, and therefore owed stolen wages and penalties.
Drivers have also taken their case to court as employees in dozens of individual and class action law suits to address violations of the California Labor Code; and in over 97% of the cases, judges have sided with drivers.
Major US retailers for over a decade have chosen to ignore signs of labor abuses within their supply chain, as port trucking companies force their drivers into debt, making them work up to 20 hours a day, sometimes paying them pennies per hour.
To get from manufacturer to retailer, goods are transported by port trucking companies that use independent drivers, often coercing them to sign truck lease purchase contracts they don’t understand. A driver must then pay all expenses for the use and maintenance of his truck from the low wages he receives. If he becomes sick and falls behind with the payments, the company can fire the employee, seize the truck and tens of thousands of dollars the driver has paid toward buying it.
Heavily lobbied by the trucking industry, Target, Home Depot, Costco, Walmart, JC Penney and other retailers have chosen to ignore reports of port trucking company labor abuses. They can look the other way because there are no laws requiring them to police their vendors or the subcontractors those vendors hire.
Trucking Companies Push Costs Onto Drivers
In 2008, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California banned older trucks from entering the harbor. Port trucking companies were suddenly faced with a $2.5 billion problem of replacing 16,000 aging big rigs with newer, cleaner trucks. Their solution was a lease-to-own program to push the cost onto individual drivers. Trucking companies arranged to finance their fleet, then passed on the cost of each truck to an individual driver. By that time, most port trucking companies were employing drivers as low-paid independent contractors who had to cover their own expenses.
Coalition for Responsible Transportation Fights Port Trucking Regulation
A lobbying group of retailers, shippers and trucking companies led by retailer Target called the Coalition for Responsible Transportation was formed to steer policy while regulators decided the rules for clean trucks. The coalition and its parent organization, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, fought port trucking-specific bills that would have converted California drivers to employees, given cities the right to regulate port trucking, and held retailers themselves liable in civil cases that workers brought against their vendors.
To date, the companies have paid lobbyists over $12.6 million to fight bills that would have protected the rights of port drivers, even after hundreds of drivers have told regulators they were treated as modern-day indentured servants.
Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, the nation’s busiest ports, have been the center of a legal dispute between port trucking companies and their drivers, a dispute that has widened to include the entire nation’s port trucking industry.
Nationally, there are over 2000 port trucking companies, known as drayage, running 100 trucks or less, transporting cargo between docks and warehouses. As many as 25,000 drivers in Southern California transport goods to and from port terminals every day.
Port Trucking Companies Found in Violation by Labor Commission
Between 2011 and 2017, 875 complaints were filed against port trucking companies with the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), alleging that drivers were misclassified as independent contractors and denied the wages and benefits given to full time employees. Of those complaints, by 2017 the Labor Commissioner’s office issued determinations in at least 376 cases, finding that drivers were in fact employees and therefore owed over $40 million in stolen wages and penalties.
In 2016, the California Labor Commissioner’s office offered port trucking companies “amnesty” from any penalties they incurred for misclassifying drivers if they voluntarily made their drivers full time employees and provided back pay, but no companies applied for the program.
Port Drivers Take Their Case to Court
In addition to complaints brought before the DLSE, drivers have also been exercising their rights as employees through the court system with class action suits for misclassification and wage theft, and have also filed dozens of individual and “mass action” suits involving multiple plaintiffs.
All of the cases brought before the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement, cases filed with class action, “mass action,” and those filed with individual lawsuits sought to address violations of the California Labor Code, including unlawful deductions and unreimbursed expenses, and failure to provide meal and rest breaks.
State and Federal Agencies Weigh in on Port Trucking Company Violations
In addition to the courts and the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement, other state and federal agencies have found port drivers to be employees. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that drivers in at least six major port trucking companies were employees not independent contractors, and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) conducted an investigation of a port trucking company for misclassification, which resulted in a 2014 judgement finding the company’s drivers were employees, and ordered it to reclassify them.
Teamsters Union Supports Justice for Port Drivers
Justice for Port Drivers, a campaign supported by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, has organized drayage drivers throughout the country, most heavily in Southern California. The union has for years helped drivers file labor complaints and lawsuits. Justice for Port Drivers organizers say that trucking companies force the costs of fuel, insurance, maintenance, and lease payments onto their drivers. Drivers also say they are not compensated for the many hours they are required to work.
Despite relatively easy reporting and repair or replacement of a defective vehicle or part at no cost, some truck fleets delay reporting and fixing defects to avoid lost revenue from sidelined equipment.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) depends on truck fleets to report a dangerous vehicle manufacturing or design defect, so that it can investigate and issue a recall if necessary. However, while about 235 million vehicles in the U.S. generate about 45,000 complaints a year to NHTSA, 9 million trucks only generate 600 calls.
NHTSA Makes Reporting Truck Defects Easier
In an effort to streamline the reporting process, NHTSA offers four ways carriers can report a problem.
The Vehicle Safety Hotline can be reached at 888-327-4236 from anywhere in the United States, including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where representatives are on duty from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST Monday through Friday.
A letter can be sent describing the problem with a phone number, so the person reporting can be reached for more information. NHTSA can also send a postage-paid complaint form to provide information about the complaint. Carriers can call 888-327-4236 to obtain the form.
All correspondence can be sent to:
NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation (NEF-100)
1200 New Jersey Avenue S.E.
Washington, DC 20590
Electronically report a problem by visiting www.safertruck.gov.
Fax a letter or complaint form to: 202-366-1767.
NHTSA’s Investigative Recall Process
After NHTSA receives a certain number of complaints on any specific line of vehicles, tires or equipment that has a potential for causing a risk to safety, it opens an investigation. During that investigation, investigators perform a detailed technical analysis of the issue using all available information.
The investigation includes, but is not limited to, service bulletins, consumer complaints, warranty claims, crash and injury data, part sales, inspections, tests, surveys and other documents prepared by the manufacturers.
NHTSA’s investigative process consists of:
- A review of customer complaints
- An analysis of any petitions calling for defect investigations and/or reviews of safety-related recalls
- The investigation of alleged safety defects
- An investigation into the effectiveness of safety recalls
If NHTSA’s analysis of the data indicates a safety defect exists, the manufacturer must fix it at no charge to the vehicle’s owner. A potential problem can be anything related to electronics or mechanical equipment. A recall may also be issued when a vehicle is not in compliance with a motor vehicle safety standard.
While most truck drivers are independent contractors that contract themselves out on a job-by-job basis, others are employed by trucking or shipping companies. In the event of a trucking accident, under legal theory known as “vicarious liability,” a company that employs a truck driver involved in an accident can be held liable for the accident as long as the driver was acting within the course and scope of his or her employment at the time of the accident.
Fatal Consequences of Trucking Company Policies
Over the past two decades, the number of truck accidents has increased by 20%. Even though large trucks are only responsible for 3% of injury-causing motor vehicle accidents, trucking accidents typically cause much greater harm than ordinary traffic accidents due to the large size and heavy weight of most big rigs.
If the equipment on a truck doesn’t work properly, it doesn’t matter how safe the driver is, and if one of the parts breaks down, the result can be catastrophic.
Most mechanical causes of truck accidents are due to failure to properly maintain equipment. In the rush to get the load out and on the road, trucking companies often sacrifice safety by ignoring proper maintenance of vehicles.
Big Rig Brake Failure Due to Inadequate Maintenance
Due to its mass and weight, a fully-loaded big rig takes almost twice as long to stop as a lighter vehicle, making braking one of its most important functions. Big rig brake systems require regular inspection and maintenance. The entire brake system includes an engine-mounted air compressor, numerous lines and valves, several tanks, and the actuating units at each wheel. Especially important and in almost universal use are the “S” cam drum brakes, with adjustment requirements that are critical for optimal brake operation.
Although federal trucking laws dictate that drivers and trucking companies should know about the condition of their brakes at all times, in the endless rush to make a delivery, comprehensive tractor-trailer brake maintenance is frequently ignored.
Removing or Depowering Front Brakes
To minimize wear on tires and brakes and avoid replacement costs, trucking companies often depower or remove the front brakes. Depowering and removing the front brakes is a dangerous way to decrease operating costs.
To make a quick stop, a driver must then rely on the brakes of the trailer and downshifting to stop or slow the vehicle, making the truck more likely to jackknife. Over time, those brakes tend to fail, overheat, or malfunction.
An improperly balanced load is a leading cause of death among truck drivers. While it is common to blame the driver in an accident, even the safest, most professional driver cannot control a truck that is overloaded or improperly balanced and tied down.
Truckers are paid for each mile they drive, and the trucking companies they work for charge their customers by the mile, so both truck driver and company want to move the freight out as quickly as possible. Safety is often sacrificed as trucks are carelessly loaded.
When an accident occurs, trucking companies are on the hook for damage caused by their employees. They are responsible for hiring and training the safest workers, but with an extremely high employee turnover rate, the men and women who load the trucks are often under-trained, poorly-supervised, or new to the industry.
Poorly-secured Truck Cargo a Danger to All Motorists
Unsecured cargo in a traditional closed trailer can push through the back door or slide out the back of a flatbed trailer. As a truck twists and turns, tons of unsecured freight can shift, causing the truck to overturn.
Unbalanced cargo that is heavier on one side, even when tied down securely, can cause a truck to tip over. The driver will not know this is happening and will be unable react in time to prevent an accident.
Even securely tied-down loads are a hazard to passing motorists when they extend out from either side of open, flatbed trailers without walls or roofs.
Trucking Companies Share Liability with Third Party Loaders
When trucking companies do not have the proper equipment and expertise available to keep cargo secure, they will outsource the loading to businesses with the manpower and experience to tie down large loads. When cargo shifts or falls out of a truck causing an accident, the trucking company will be responsible, but the loading company will also be at least partially liable in a civil suit.