Tractor-trailers and other commercial trucks can cause devastating injuries when they crash, which is why various regulatory organizations and agencies exist to make sure truck companies operate safely. So, it might surprise you to learn that even when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) — the most important oversight agency for the trucking industry — cites a trucking carrier for repeated critical safety violations, that carrier may continue to operate.
In this article, we’ll discuss how and why unsafe truck companies are allowed to continue operations and what to do if you’re the victim of a truck wreck caused by company negligence.
Dump Truck Company With History of Safety Violations Is Tied to Recent Crash in Pioneer Square
In August 2019, a dump truck crashed into a Subway storefront in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, injuring five people. Of the injured victims, one was left in critical condition, and three others had to seek medical treatment. The victims included several pedestrians and occupants of nearby vehicles who couldn’t avoid the truck as it sped straight down James Street and barreled into the store.
Police and FMCSA investigators are still trying to determine the exact cause of the crash, but initial police reports and witness accounts indicate that the vehicle suffered a catastrophic brake failure.
Shortly after the wreck, an article from the Seattle Times reported that the company that owned the dump truck, Barret Services, has a history of FMCSA citations for safety violations. U.S. Department of Transportation records show that in the past two years, Barrett Services vehicles received four inspections, and three of those inspections uncovered serious safety violations that forced vehicles out of service (OOS).
What Are the Most Common Safety Violations Among Trucking Companies?
Maintenance-related safety violations, especially violations involving braking systems, are unfortunately common among truck companies. Other common violations relate to hours-of-service rules and negligent hiring practices.
Specific examples of common violations include:
- Failing to properly inspect and maintain trucks
- Knowingly keeping trucks with significant safety issues in service
- Coercing drivers into speeding by scheduling impossible runs
- Requiring or permitting drivers to exceed safe driving hours
- Failing to discourage drivers from using cell phones or other electronic devices while driving
- Pressuring drivers to operate trucks that have been placed OOS
- Failing to install electronic logging devices and other important safety technology
- Hiring drivers who have a history of substance abuse problems or other behavioral issues
- Failing to implement substance abuse testing and perform driver physicals
- Hiring drivers without performing the proper background checks
- Hiring drivers without checking for required licensing
- Failing to provide appropriate training for drivers
Unfortunately, only some of these violations are obvious to FMCSA inspectors during a routine inspection. Often, a trucking company’s history of negligent behavior only comes to light after one of the company’s drivers causes a wreck and an experienced truck accident attorney investigates the causes.
Why Are Unsafe Truck Companies Allowed to Continue Operating?
There are two main reasons truck companies remain in operation despite repeated safety violations. The first is that the violations have to be detected, and trucking companies often go out of their way to cover up negligent behavior. Secondly, a company has to accumulate a certain number of violations before the FMCSA will take action beyond placing individual trucks out of service.
Inspections Don’t Catch All Violations
For the FMCSA to catch a violation before it turns up as a cause of a crash, the offense must show up in an inspection. The FMCSA requires all commercial motor vehicles to undergo an official inspection at least every 12 months. Additionally, the FMCSA and other commercial vehicle safety organizations occasionally perform both announced and unannounced inspections throughout the year.
However, the reality is that the FMCSA, like many government agencies, is understaffed, and many of the agency’s investigators are overworked. FMCSA agents can’t inspect every truck and catch every safety violation. Negligent trucking companies tend to know the FMCSA’s weak points, and they’re experts at hiding safety violations from investigators, who don’t always get the time they need to perform thorough investigations in the first place.
The FMCSA Won’t Shut Down a Trucking Company Until Safety Violations Reach a Critical Mass
The FMCSA assigns each type of safety violation a numerical value based on the severity of the violation, the likelihood of the violation causing a crash, and the severity of that potential crash. Each trucking company receives a total “score” based on its accumulation of safety violations, and the FMCSA designates a number that separates an acceptable rate of safety violations from a rate that requires their intervention.
In other words, companies that have a history of safety violations are allowed to continue to operate as long as their total “score” does not exceed the FMCSA’s chosen number. Negligent trucking companies have mastered this system, and they know exactly what they can get away with while staying beneath the FMCSA’s radar. Unfortunately, the negligent behaviors these companies engage in while focusing on short-term profits often put ordinary drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians in harm’s way.
Seattle Truck Law Investigates Trucking Company Negligence to Strengthen Truck Accident Claims
When you hire Seattle Truck Law to handle your truck accident case, we’ll launch a detailed investigation of the wreck to uncover all the causes and hold negligent parties responsible to the extent allowed by law. In a case like the Pioneer Square dump truck crash, liability is not always clear. Even though the collision may have been caused by brake failure, determining who can be held responsible usually requires an in-depth investigation by an experienced truck accident lawyer.
Brake maintenance is so important with big trucks that it must be performed and inspected by certified mechanics pursuant to FMCSR § 396.25. Determining why the dump truck’s brakes went out and who maintained and inspected the brakes (often a separate maintenance shop) is a critical part of the investigation.
If you or someone you love has suffered serious injuries in a collision with a large truck or bus, please call 866-580-HURT (4878) or fill out this brief online form. We’ll meet with you to assess your case and discuss your rights and options during a free, no-risk initial consultation. And if we’re able to take your case, you won’t pay any attorney’s fees unless and until we help you recover financial compensation for your injuries and losses.
Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. (2019, August 7). More than 1,600 commercial motor vehicles removed from roadways for critical brake-related violations on May 15 as part of CVSA’s unannounced brake safety inspection initiative. [press release]. Retrieved from https://www.cvsa.org/news-entry/2019-unannounced-brake-safety-day-results/
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. (2019, June). Safety measurement system (SMS) methodology: Behavior analysis and safety improvement category (BASIC) prioritization status. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved from https://csa.fmcsa.dot.gov/Documents/SMSMethodology.pdf
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.