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Legal Blog

Should the U.S. Reexamine its Trucking Safety Program?

Since 1982, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has been in charge of investigating and auditing American road freight companies. On average, the agency investigates only about 15,000 trucking companies a year. Of these companies, the FMCSA is able to give only half of them a definite safety rating. To put this into perspective, there are over one million freight carriers currently operating in the United States. To make matters worse, experts agree that FMCSA safety ratings do not accurately reflect the risk level of trucking companies.

In 2010, the FMCSA inaugurated the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) initiative to overhaul and expand its safety ratings system. But in a recent 132-page report entitled “Improving Motor Carrier Safety Management,” the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) evaluated the CSA initiative as being “conceptually sound,” but recommended that the FMCSA make significant changes.

If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident involving the negligence of a trucking company’s negligence, contact the Houston truck accident lawyers at The Krist Law Firm, P.C. by calling (281) 283-8500, or reaching out through our online form. We will inform you of your legal rights and options, and provide a free and confidential consultation.

FMCSA Safety Ratings Will Not Be Public Information for Now

One controversial issue with the CSA is whether to make trucking company safety scores public or private. The NAS report argues that the decision should be based on a formal evaluation of the effect of public knowledge of Safety Measurement System (SMS) percentile rankings. It is unclear how long such an evaluation would take.

This is good news for the road freight industry. Truckers, shippers, and freight brokers have long complained that their safety ratings were inaccurate, and worse yet, being misused against them. For example, safety ratings of trucking and shipping companies have been presented as evidence in personal injury lawsuits against them. Sean Garney, the CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), recently stated that “until more study–and correction–of these issues is complete, ATA strongly believes FMCSA should continue to keep CSA scores out of the public domain.”

How Can FMCSA Increase the Accuracy and Relevance of Its Safety Rankings?

Another point of contention with the CSA initiative is the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), a collection of data relating to a carrier’s vehicle registrations, vehicle inspections (and violations), and crash data. In its current form, MCMIS data is the only basis for developing truck company SMS scores. As the NAS noted, the factors that affect the frequency of trucking accidents are greater than the factors that comprise MCMIS data. Thus, SMS scores may not accurately predict a trucking company’s safety risks.

In addition to the factors already included in the MCMIS, the NAS recommends safety ratings be based on factors such as driver turnover and compensation. Recent studies of the trucking industry have shown that there is a strong correlation between driver compensation and safety. But some trucking companies, such as New Jersey-based Tucker Company Worldwide, resist the idea of “the government interfering with pay, rates, and wages in trucking.”

The NAS also recommends that the FMCSA develops its SMS rankings to an alternate method, specifically the item response theory model, which is already being used to rank hospitals for safety. The report claims that FMCSA’s methods are “ad hoc and based on subject matter expertise that has not been sufficiently empirically validated.” The NAS wants the FMCSA to spend the next two years putting together a system that relies on data rather than “expert opinion or dated empirical information.”

Holding the Trucking Industry Accountable for the Accidents it Causes

The federal government is spending so much time, money, and effort on increasing safety in the trucking industry because trucks are a major source of highway injuries and fatalities. The FMCSA reports that about one percent of truck accidents cause a death, and 20 percent cause an injury. Since around 500,000 truck accidents occur every year, that’s a significant amount of fatalities and injuries that could be prevented, namely by addressing driver fatigue.

If you or a loved one have been injured by a commercial truck, you should hire an experienced Houston trucking accident lawyer to get the compensation you deserve. In these types of personal injury cases, the trucking company is usually responsible for paying the victims as opposed to the drivers of the vehicles. At The Krist Law Firm, P.C., we have a proven track record of successfully negotiating settlements with trucking and insurance companies. If you want compensation for an injury, call us today at (281) 283-8500, or contact us online for a free and confidential consultation.