1712, 2013

Federal Trucking Regulator Announces Changes to How Violations Are Reported in CSA

December 17th, 2013|Trucking Regulations|Comments Off on Federal Trucking Regulator Announces Changes to How Violations Are Reported in CSA

A few weeks ago, I wrote here about how safety violations are being tracked and used in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Pre-employment Screening Program, a program that relies on its safety database. Just before Thanksgiving, the FMCSA announced a change to the way that violations are reported to that database, which it also uses in the agency’s relatively new Comprehensive Safety Accountability program. There’s a lot at stake for truckers and trucking companies in these changes, because the way violations are reported can influence hiring decisions and the chance of a serious semi truck accident lawsuit. According to Land Line magazine, the magazine of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the change will create a uniform nationwide system for removing incorrect reports.
The database, called the Motor Carrier Management Information System, contains information about roadside inspections, violations of safety rules, citations and crash reports. The PSP program permits employers and employment screeners to check that information for a driver before he or she is hired. The CSA program determines safety rankings for trucking companies, by weighting safety violations and assigning a score. Those safety rankings are public, which has led many trucking companies to worry that they could be used against them in a tractor-trailer accident lawsuit. As a result, there’s great interest in correcting incorrect records. Prior to this change, if a driver wanted to update a record—say, because a ticket was dismissed—he or she could contest the data, but there was no policy for removing the record from MCMIS. This created inconsistencies between different states.
With the change, there will be a uniform policy for handling these challenges, leading to a more reliable national safety database. If a ticket is dismissed or a driver is found not guilty, the record will simply be removed. The records of drivers who must pay fines or fees will show a conviction, even if the actual ticket is dismissed. If the driver is convicted of something other than the violation alleged by the ticket, a note will be added to the original violation saying so. For CSA purposes, the weight of the changed conviction will be the lowest weight out of either the original charge or the charge of conviction. The change will not be retroactive, which means drivers’ PSP records may still reflect incorrect citations from before it is made. The public has 30 days to comment on the proposed change.
Drivers commenting on this article seem to have a low opinion of the PSP and CSA programs to start with, and suggest that the federal government is not making the change retroactive because it doesn’t want to admit it was wrong. I suspect there are practical impediments, but in any case, I also believe more information for the public is better. This change will provide that information, by giving us a fuller picture of the resolution of drivers’ safety violations. This will help make everyone safer, by letting trucking companies weed out people with consistent safety problems that might someday lead to a serious 18-wheeler crash. People who control huge multi-ton vehicles should be held to a higher safety standard, and I applaud the FMCSA for taking steps to do that.

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2611, 2013

Study Finds FMCSA Pre-Employment Screening Program Improves Truck Driver Safety

November 26th, 2013|Trucking Regulations|Comments Off on Study Finds FMCSA Pre-Employment Screening Program Improves Truck Driver Safety

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released a study last week showing that improvements in driver safety are available—if trucking companies are willing to take advantage. According to Truckinginfo.com, the FMCSA released results of an in-house study showing that its Pre-Employment Screening Program reduces serious accidents involving semi trucks as well as safety violations that take the driver out of service. The three-year-old PSP program allows prospective employers to look at a driver’s past history of federal inspections and crashes, using the FMCSA’s multi-year database of about 3.5 million records. The study also suggested that although PSP is voluntary, interest in it is growing, particularly among trucking companies using it to spot potential problems in drivers they are considering hiring.
The study compared crash rates and driver out-of-service violations for the 12 months before PSP’s launch in May of 2010 and 12 months after its launch. During that time, the study found, there were 35,000 PSP users making about 70,000 requests to the program per month. The vast majority—97 percent—were trucking companies, joined by a handful of bus companies and third-party employment screeners. Overall, the study found that those companies using PSP had a statistically significant 8 percent decrease in reported accidents, and a 17.2 percent decrease in driver out-of-service violations. Small (6-20 drivers) or midsized (21-100 drivers) companies both saw an even greater crash decrease of about 20 percent. Those companies also saw declines in driver out-of-service violations ranging from 10.1 to 18.3 percent.
I’m not surprised to learn that this program is popular among trucking companies, because it helps them spot problems that are major predictors of whether the company could later face a serious big rig accident lawsuit. PSP users told the study’s authors that they use it to spot lies on job applications, including omitted crashes or omitted previous employers. The records that concerned prospective employers the most were records showing speeding violations, falsified log books or failure of pre-trip inspections. All of these are employment violations in themselves, which could put off a responsible employer. But they also indicate that the driver is willing to place convenience above safety, which increases the chance of a serious accident that hurts the innocent motorists who share the interstates. And if companies know a driver isn’t safe, hiring him or her anyway can lead to liability for the trucking company in any crash that results.
At Carey, Danis & Lowe, we represent clients who have suffered serious injuries or lost a loved one because of a bad decision by a truck driver or a trucking company. As this post suggests, it’s very often both the trucker and the company, because companies have a legal responsibility to make sure their drivers are fit to operate a heavy vehicle. A tractor-trailer accident lawsuit can’t reverse the catastrophic effects of a crash, but it can help families deal with them. Injured people can recover money for all past and future medical care, compensation for lost abilities or loved ones gone forever, and sometimes damages designed to punish companies for placing profits ahead of safety.

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2510, 2013

Trucking Company Owners Caught Attempting to Avoid Complying With Safety Regulations

October 25th, 2013|Trucking Regulations|Comments Off on Trucking Company Owners Caught Attempting to Avoid Complying With Safety Regulations

I write frequently here about the importance of federal trucking safety regulations. Commercial drivers and their employers are much more heavily regulated than ordinary drivers. Drivers are subject to special rules for medical fitness to drive and drug testing; the trucks are subject to inspections; and companies must keep safety records and undergo periodic safety audits. All of these rules are designed to prevent catastrophic and entirely preventable tractor-trailer crashes. But complying with these rules is more expensive than ignoring them—at least until a tragedy triggers a big rig injury lawsuit—so some trucking companies prefer to ignore the rules. This week, owners of two companies went to court over their attempts to skirt safety regulations. Heronda McWilliams and Isaac McWilliams of Alabama, and Irfan Dushku of Massachusetts, were both convicted of crimes.
According to Truckinginfo.com, the McWilliamses ran IDM Transportation in 2010, when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducted a safety review and found it so lacking that it issued an out-of-service order. The order prohibited the McWilliamses from starting a new company without disclosing their old one, but that’s exactly what they did when they filed with the FMCSA to operate BM&L Trucking. Not surprisingly, when the FMCSA conducted a safety audit of BM&L, it found a slew of safety problems similar to those of IDM. It again issued an out-of-service order to both companies and both McWilliamses, but they continued to conduct trucking business. The McWilliamses were ultimately charged with, and pleaded guilty to, criminal violations of the FMCSA order.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Dushku attempted to avoid regulatory compliance by bribing the FMCSA inspector who came to his business, Korca Enterprises, Inc. He offered the investigator $1,000 to prevent a negative safety evaluation. In the two years prior to the bribery incident, Korca had had 12 random roadside inspections. Of those, seven resulted in trucks being placed out of service immediately, leading to a 58 percent vehicle out-of-service rate. The national average, an FMCSA spokesman said, is 20.72 percent. Korca also had high rates of safety problems in two categories of the FMCSA’s new compliance measurement system, CSA: unsafe driving and hours of service compliance. Dushku was criminally charged with bribery of a public official and pleaded guilty in September. The prosecution recommended six months of home confinement and a year of probation.
These stories show a disturbing lack of safety consciousness among at least some of the people who run trucking companies. Dushku’s attempt to bribe the inspector suggests that he knew Korca couldn’t pass an inspection. But rather than protect himself, his drivers and the innocent motorists around them by ensuring that his fleet was safe, he apparently thought it was better to bribe an inspector. The same is true of the Alabama company owners, who preferred to just change their company’s name rather than fix the safety problems the FMCSA found. If they hadn’t been caught, these unsafe trucks could be sharing our highways, potentially triggering a serious semi truck crash caused by over-tired drivers, medical or substance abuse problems, or badly maintained equipment.

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