Increasing Carnage On Our Highways from Truck Wrecks

The Huffington Post reports, in an article released April 16, 2016, on:

The inside story of how the trucking industry and politicians have conspired to make our highways less safe.

What follows is an excerpt from that extensive article about truck-related deaths, which hit an all-time low during the economic doldrums of 2009, when 2,983 truck accidents killed 3,380 people, that they have increased as the economy has recovered, and the carnage has been on the rise:

“In 2013, the most recent year for which finalized statistics are available, 3,541 wrecks killed 3,964 people — an increase of 17.3 percent in just four years. In 2014, the number of deaths resulting from truck accidents was down slightly, but the total number of crashes and injuries increased.

At the same time, Congress has been caving, very quietly, to lobbying from trucking interests that want to roll back, block or modify at least a half-dozen important safety regulations. Significant parts of the hauling industry have long opposed many of the federal rules governing working hours, rest periods, size and weight limits, and safety standards. When the Great Recession began in 2008, profit margins for shippers shrank and bankruptcies rose, prompting a desperate industry to step up its lobbying effort.

Perhaps, the trucking companies’ lobbyists suggested to Congress, trucks could haul loads heavier than the federal 80,000-pound limit, which would allow them to deliver more goods with each truck. Maybe they could have longer double trailers, increasing the limit from 28 feet for each unit to 33 feet — turning each rig into an 80-foot-long behemoth, as long as an eight-story building is tall. Or they could let truck drivers be more flexible with their rest breaks, which would allow them to work up to 82 hours a week instead of the already-exhausting limit of 70. Maybe trucking firms could reduce labor costs by hiring lower-paid drivers, younger than 21 — as young as 18. Maybe they could stop federal regulators from raising insurance requirements that were set during the Reagan administration. Maybe the federal motor carrier safety ratings for unsafe trucking companies could be kept secret.

Indeed, the trucking industry is trying to do all of those things. If they are successful, these changes would amount to the most significant overhaul of highway safety rules in decades. But most people don’t know such sweeping revisions are even being considered.”

Safety regulations and requirements should be strengthened, not watered down, but that is exactly what trucking industry and their lobbists are trying to do.  We don’t need larger and heavier trucks on our roads.  And, truck drivers are falling asleep at the wheel now; they need to take more breaks and time off.  With the potential for death and destruction these behemoths present, one would think that the federal government would require them to carry at least $5,000,000 in liability coverage.  But no, when FMCSA begin consideration for increasing the current minimum of $750,000, another measure the industry pushed last year short-circuited federal regulators’ efforts to even evaluate raising insurance requirements for trucking companies. The current $750,000 minimum has been unchanged since the 1980’s.  But it is obvious to all that $750,000 doesn’t even begin to cover the costs of a serious semi wreck.  All the large trucking companies carry multiple layers of coverage, often far in excess of $5,000,000.  It is the small operators that present the clear and present danger, carrying only the minimum limits required by FMCSA.  And those small operators are often running poorly maintained equipment with marginally qualified drivers.

How can the public protect itself?  Speak up and get Congress to pay attention.  The relationship between the industry and Congress, including members of both parties, is far to cozy.  More on this topic to come, including truck drivers who fall asleep at the wheel.

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