In 1980, before the interstate trucking industry was deregulated, there were approximately 20,000 interstate motor carriers operating in the United States. Following deregulation, the American Trucking Associations undertook a study in 2002 which revealed that there are over 500,000 truckers using our highways. This increased competition for trucking business has motivated the less principled companies to cut corners and "overlook" the hours-of-service regulations that legally limit the number of hours that a trucker can drive per week. As a result, 40 ton commercial tractor-trailer rigs are being operated on our highways by sleep deprived drivers every day. How and why does this happen?
Federal law limits the number of hours a tractor-trailer operator can be "in service" each week. Federal law considers a trucker who is waiting for his cargo to be loaded or unloaded to be "in service." Even though a trucker is legally "in service" when waiting for his cargo, the trucking companies do not pay drivers for this wasted time. They are paid only for miles driven.
How do these big-rig drivers make money with these pay limitations? Many of them break the law by falsifying their driver logbooks, by understating their loading time and claiming they accomplished their 300-500 daily driving miles during normal hours. In truth, because they had to wait several hours for a load, they violate the hours-of-service laws and drive most of the night in order to get paid for mileage.
This cheating could easily be discovered by the trucking companies if they cared about highway safety. Today, many trucks are equipped with global positioning satellite (GPS) technology and computers which enable the trucking companies to know exactly where their trucks are at all times, when a truck is being driven and how long a driver has been parked. Even before GPS, trucking companies had access to security gate logs at all of the docks where their drivers picked up and delivered, showing exactly how long a driver was loading versus driving. In addition, trucking companies have always reimbursed their drivers for fuel, maintenance and personal expenses, and these bills, if reviewed, would reveal when and where drivers stopped to eat, refuel or have repairs performed.
The bottom line is this: Many trucking companies know that their drivers break the law, but "look the other way" because profit is more important to them than the safety and well-being of citizens who have to share the highways with tired tractor-trailer drivers.
Is this a serious enough problem to make these negligent trucking companies take responsibility? In 1995, the U.S. Department of Transportation convened the first National Truck and Bus Safety Summit at which safety experts concluded that driver fatigue was the number one safety issue facing their industry.
In 1999, a Department of Transportation study on driver fatigue and alertness revealed that 28% of these tractor-trailer drivers reported falling asleep at the wheel at least once in the prior month!
The Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 30% of the deaths and 70% of highway injuries are the result of negligently operated trucks by fatigued drivers. In 2005, Annette Sandberg, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, cited statistics showing that negligent fatigued truck drivers were responsible for 410 deaths and more than 7,500 other non-fatal crash injuries.
Missouri is a prime example of how these trucking companies recklessly disregard the law. In 2005, the Missouri Highway Patrol issued 4,183 tickets to truckers who violated the hours-of-service regulations or driver logbook regulations, and this number does not include the big-rig drivers who were simply let off with warnings instead of citations. Imagine: the Missouri Highway Patrol catches more than 11 semi drivers breaking the law every day!
These startling numbers do not take into account the thousands of semi crashes caused by negligent loading, alcohol and substance abuse, improper braking and merely driving too fast for weather conditions.
Finally, we can look forward to even greater risk of death and serious injury on our highways thanks to a U.S. Department of Transportation pilot program that will permit Mexican trucks to travel directly from Mexico to their destinations in America, beginning in April, 2007. Despite objections by Rep. James Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee and Todd Spencer, Executive Vice-President of the Owner-Operator Independent Driver’s Association, with regard to the safety of these Mexican truckers, the profits available to the trucking industry under NAFTA appear to have superseded concern for public safety.
The Glassman Law Firm, P.C. is committed to helping the victims of big-rig trucking accidents and making the trucking industry accept responsibility for violation of federal safety regulations. When we pursue these cases, we hire nationally known experts in safety regulations, accident reconstruction and fleet maintenance to show juries exactly why and how our clients have been killed and disabled by trucking companies who have little regard for public safety. If you or a loved one has been involved in a trucking accident, contact The Glassman Law Firm, P.C. for a prompt free consultation.
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