Highway safety sprung into the public consciousness and has continued to be a hot topic in the news since the 2014 six-vehicle commercial trucking accident that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan and others and killed James “Jimmy Mac” McNair. At the time, the focus was on fatigued driving by commercial drivers and the role hours-of-service limits in attempting to reduce the incidence of this type of accident.
In June of 2014, the trucking industry first attempted to rollback these hours-of-service limits claiming that they were unnecessary and the type of government red tape that was hurting the competitiveness of American businesses. However, following the public outcry due to the Tracy Morgan accident, trucking industry representatives temporarily shelved their efforts to repeal limits on the hours commercial drivers can operate a vehicle. However, in December 2014, the trucking industry through the support of Senator Susan Collins was able to roll back the rest rule for commercial drivers. Through a rider attached to a spending bill, Collins was able to eliminate the provisions that prohibited drivers from working up to an 82 hours over the course of eight days.
Safety advocates believe that 82 hours of driving over the course of eight days is in excess of what human endurance will safely permit. Operating on such a demanding schedule increases the odds that the driver will become fatigued. Fatigued drivers can fall asleep at the wheel leading to a loss of vehicle control. Furthermore, a fatigued driver is also more prone to make judgment errors or fail to perceive a threat or danger on the roadway. However, the trucking industry claims that few drivers reach 82 hours and thus concerns over this issue are overstated.
The House Considers New Changes to Highway Safety
The House of Representatives is now considering a funding bill that would drive the next six years of federal spending and policy regarding highways. H.R. 3763 will set the budget for the Department of Transportation at $325 billion over the upcoming six years. This level of funding provides, roughly, inflation-adjusted parity with current spending levels. Unfortunately, the highway system is currently underfunded running roughly a $15 billion deficit each year. As such, the level of funding provided by this bill is insufficient and likely to allow highway conditions to continue to deteriorate. In fact, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has already gone on record stating that $400 billion over the next six years is “the absolute minimum level of investment” required.
Changes to the FMCSA Compliance, Safety and Accountability Program
The Compliance, Safety, & Accountability program (CSA) is designed and intended to track the safety and compliance records of commercial motor carriers. Violations by the driver and the company for reckless driving, hours of service violations, and reports of motorists killed in accidents involving the trucking company over the past two years are all reported in this database. As the program currently exists, any and all trucking companies can be searched in the public database. If this bill is passed, the CSA information and stats will be pulled from public view.
Without the CSA information, the public will lack reliable means to determine which motor carriers are at or beyond intervention thresholds. Since intervention thresholds are determined in relation to a trucking company’s peers, it is impossible to determine the threshold without this data. Furthermore, FMCSA uses the CSA program to monitor and assess motor carriers that haul hazardous materials. Trucking companies that are over the intervention threshold are not permitted to haul hazardous goods. Changes to the program may limit the public’s ability to know which carriers that are currently authorized to haul hazardous materials.
Other changes the bill would introduce include:
- A pilot program that would permit holders of CDLs aged 19.5 to 21 to drive a commercial motor vehicle across state lines.
- Requiring the DOT to create a “corrective action plan” that FMCSA must follow to re-implement the CSA program.
- Encourages states to adopt programs educating drivers about proper ways to drive around commercial motor vehicles.
The proposed bill would make important changes to how we track highway safety and would, unfortunately, deprive the public of an important resource. While there are some justifiable concerns with how the data is presented in the CSA program, the presentation of the data can be corrected. There is no need to remove the program entirely. Furthermore, it is unclear as to why there is a need to expand the pool of commercial drivers to include drivers as young as 19.5 years or whether it is feasible to expect drivers of such a young age to operate 18-wheelers and other big rigs.
Injured in a Commercial Truck Accident in Pennsylvania?
If you have suffered a serious injury or a loved one has been killed due to a commercial truck accident, the experienced personal injury attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm can fight for you. To schedule a no-cost, private initial case analysis call (215) 246-9000 today. For more than 34 years we have stood up to trucking companies, trucking company lawyers, and insurance companies to fight for compensation for injured people.