Labor Day Holiday Travel Alert: New Analysis of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Data Shows Over 28,000 Motor Carrier Companies Have Safety Reg Violations

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For Immediate Release: August 26, 2009

Contact: Ray De Lorenzi
202-965-3500, ext. 369
media.replies@justice.org

Labor Day Holiday Travel Alert: New Analysis of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Data Shows Over 28,000 Motor Carrier Companies Have Safety Reg Violations

Violating Carriers Operate Over 200,000 Trucks; Many Lack Minimum Safety Standards, Including Adequate Insurance, Qualified Drivers and Functioning Brakes

Washington, DC― As nearly 30 million Americans travel U.S. roads during the Labor Day holiday, a new analysis of government data reveals that more than 28,000 motor carrier companies have violated federal safety regulations, operating over 200,000 trucks. 

In an original analysis of data not previously seen by the public, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) found commuters are sharing roads with trucks that have incurred thousands of safety violations – such as defective brakes, bald tires, loads that dangerously exceed weight limits and drivers with little or no training or drug and alcohol dependencies.

AAJ obtained data on the safety performance of U.S. trucking companies through the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), which is maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).  Over a million lines of data were analyzed in an effort to pinpoint just how many unsafe trucks might be on the road.

West Virginia, North Dakota, Nebraska, Vermont and Iowa had the highest rate of companies in violation of federal safety requirements.  The effects of these violations are deadly. While truck accidents occur for a variety of reasons, many are preventable, and often a direct result of trucking companies violating safety standards to cut corners and maximize profits.

According to the FMCSA:

  • More than 4,000 people die every year in collisions with trucks and 80,000 more are seriously injured.
  • Though trucks make up less than four percent of all passenger vehicles on U.S. roads, they are involved in 12 percent of all motor vehicles fatalities.
  • The vast majority of people killed in accidents with trucks are the drivers and passengers of the cars that get hit. 

“As millions of American families pack-up to hit the road for the Labor Day holiday, most are completely unaware they share the road with trucks that are ‘rigged for disaster’” said AAJ President Anthony Tarricone.  “It is the unsuspecting motorist who bears the cost when motor carrier companies put deadly trucks on the road and turn a blind eye to safety.”

While the number of trucks currently operating with safety violations is shocking, the analysis is likely just the tip of the iceberg.  Many deadly accidents involving unsafe trucks are never recorded as safety violations.  A 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that nearly one-third of commercial motor vehicle crashes that states are required to report to the federal government were never recorded.  Additionally, state crash reports were not always accurate.

The analysis by AAJ follows a July 2009 GAO study which found that more than 1,000 commercial trucking firms that were ordered out of service because of federal safety violations evaded compliance by operating under a different name, but often using the same owner, address and employees.

Linda and John Giuliano know all too well the deadly consequences of companies that keep unsafe trucks on the road.  Their 23-year-old son Matthew, a newly-commissioned Army officer traveling to his first assignment at Fort Hood in Kileen, Texas, was killed when his car slammed into the back of a broken-down tractor-trailer-truck.  The tractor-trailer screeched to a sudden halt when its brake hose failed, causing the emergency brakes to engage.  The truck drivers knew the air brakes were compromised by a small hole in the brake hose; but, rather than call a mobile mechanic, the drivers fixed the hole with a toothpick and electrical tape while the trucking company dispatcher complimented them on their resourcefulness.  They drove for two hours until the brakes ultimately failed, passing numerous repair shops where a $12 fix would have made the hose safe again.

Not only do trucking companies disregard safety laws, the minimum insurance requirements for commercial trucks are completely inadequate to compensate those who have been seriously injured in a collision involving multiple vehicles or multiple injured individuals.  The minimum insurance requirement for commercial trucks was set nearly three decades ago and has never been raised. In 1980, Congress set the minimum level of insurance to $750,000; when adjusted for inflation, $750,000 is just $292,000 in 1980 dollars.

While large trucking companies may carry more than the required level of coverage, smaller companies often carry just the bare minimum.  AAJ’s analysis of the U.S. trucking industry found that 87 percent of the companies in violation of safety standards are small companies that have fleets of 10 trucks or less.

“The current minimum insurance requirements are woefully inadequate and punish injured consumers twice by leaving them to bear the burden of uncovered health care costs,” said Tarricone.

All of the companies listed have either conditional or unsatisfactory safety ratings. A conditional rating means that the truck company’s records indicate the truck was out of compliance with one or more safety requirements.  An unsatisfactory rating means that the truck company’s records indicated evidence of substantial noncompliance with safety requirements.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration updates the entire database of unsafe trucking companies each month.

States that had a rate of companies in violation of safety requirements above the national average include West Virginia, North Dakota, Nebraska, Vermont, Iowa, Montana, Delaware, Idaho, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Indiana, Mississippi, Wisconsin, and South Dakota.  A full listing of all companies in violation of federal safety requirements by state is available at www.justice.org/trucksafetyviolations.

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