With a New Safety Rating System on the Way, Trucking Companies Need to Step Up

With a New Safety Rating System on the Way, Trucking Companies Need to Step UpA fundamental expectation among drivers is that the commercial trucks sharing the highways have undergone rigorous safety assessments, ensuring that they meet the necessary standards to operate safely. Unfortunately, the current truck safety rating system falls significantly short of fulfilling this crucial requirement. With a majority of freight carriers lacking a safety rating, a glaring gap exists in our ability to verify the safety fitness of the majority of trucks on the road.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) existing Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) process has come under scrutiny for its loopholes, allowing carriers to operate without adequate oversight. The urgent need for a more robust and dependable safety rating system is evident to keep everyone on the road safe, and to enhance public confidence in the trucking industry’s commitment to safety.

Whether or not this safety rating system is improved, it is important to understand that the trucking companies themselves have a duty of care to keep the roads safe by taking responsibility for the maintenance of their trucks and the training of their drivers. The safety rating system is there to check that truck companies are doing their due diligence, but trucking companies are in charge of making their trucks safe whether there’s a rating system or not.

Who should be in charge of keeping trucks safe?

Trucking industry leaders are urging the FMCSA to assign safety ratings to carriers without such designations, which currently applies to over 90% of the freight market. The agency’s data reveals that, out of 690,091 eligible carriers in 2021, approximately 94% lacked a safety rating. Major trucking companies and brokers argue that a system rating less than 10% of the eligible population is unacceptable.

The problem with this argument is that it takes the burden of ensuring safety away from the trucking companies – companies that should be following state and federal laws and regulations to keep their own fleets safe. The trucking industry is making this push with the FMCSA because they want to push the burden of vetting carriers and drivers to the government. Then when they have bad carriers which cause horrible damages, they can throw their hands up and say it’s the government’s fault.

But it’s NOT the government’s fault when a trucking company allows a dangerous vehicle on the road, or hires a terrible owner-operator. It’s not the government’s fault when companies push their drivers to violate Hours of Service regulations or ignore background checks on their own hires. And given that the industry made “$940.8 billion in gross freight revenues” in 2022, we think it’s a bit rich that they’re trying to push this responsibility onto the shoulders of taxpayers.

Does the FMSCA’s safety ratings system need work? Of course. It’s unfathomable to know that more than one in 10 trucks has no safety rating at all. But it’s even more mind-blowing that the trucking industry believes it bears no responsibility for the safety of its carriers, and continues its efforts to make the federal government the fall guy.

How common are truck-related accidents, anyway?

According to Forbes, “in 2021 alone, a total of 523,796 large truck accidents occurred across the United States. A year prior there were 415,444 incidents.” Semi-trucks were far more likely to be in accidents over other types of trucks.

Not surprisingly, Forbes also revealed that:

When truck drivers become involved in a collision, often it is the other motorists who are killed as a result of the incident.

In 2021, 72% of people who lost their lives in accidents with large trucks were not occupants of the truck at the time of the incident. The disproportionate size of the truck versus other vehicles on the road helps to explain why motorists caught in a crash with a truck are more likely to perish.

Truck accidents in Oklahoma

Oklahoma drivers regularly travel alongside trucks on our highways and roads. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) even states that “current traffic growth projections indicate a 33 percent increase in cars on highways and at the same time a 70 percent increase in trucks on Oklahoma interstates in the next 20 years. The American Trucking Association projects about a 50% increase in freight movement on highways in the next 10 years.”

In 2021, Oklahoma saw 112 fatalities caused by truck accidents, with a total of 5,575 large truck crashes.

What is the responsibility of trucking companies when it comes to safety?

The trucking companies themselves bear a great deal of responsibility when it comes to ensuring that their trucks are safe, their drivers are well trained, and that brokers and shippers (just like drivers and other workers) are fully vetted. Similar to expecting a health inspector to ensure a kitchen is operating safely, it is still the restaurant’s duty to maintain a healthy cooking environment, inspector or not. The same applies to trucking companies.

Far too often, when something goes wrong and a truck causes an collision, the trucking companies will try and shift the blame off of themselves and onto others. While improving the FMCSA’s rating system is an important step forward in truck safety, holding trucking companies responsible for poor maintenance and training is equally important.

Some of the responsibilities that trucking companies have when it comes to safety include:

  • Vehicle maintenance. Trucking companies are obligated to ensure that their vehicles are well-maintained and in compliance with safety standards. Regular inspections, maintenance, and prompt repairs are essential to prevent mechanical failures that could lead to accidents.
  • Driver training and qualification. Trucking companies must hire qualified and well-trained drivers. This involves verifying a driver’s qualifications, performing background checks, providing adequate training on safety protocols, and ensuring drivers comply with all regulations.
  • Adherence to regulations. Trucking companies must comply with various federal and state regulations governing the trucking industry. This includes adherence to weight limits, proper loading procedures, and compliance with hours of service regulations to prevent driver fatigue.
  • Safety policies and procedures. Establishing and enforcing comprehensive safety policies and procedures is crucial. This may involve protocols for pre-trip inspections, securing cargo, and response procedures in the event of an accident or emergency.
  • Monitoring driver behavior. Employing systems to monitor and address driver behavior is important. This can include technologies that track speed, braking habits, and adherence to safety protocols. Addressing unsafe behavior promptly is vital for overall safety.
  • Recordkeeping and compliance. Trucking companies are required to maintain accurate records related to vehicle maintenance, driver qualifications, and compliance with regulations. This documentation is not only a legal requirement but also a critical aspect of ensuring ongoing safety.

It is more than just bad business when a trucking company knows their trucks are unsafe yet continues to allow the vehicle to continue operating. The same goes for unsafe truck drivers. They see it as a cost saving measure, but when someone is injured or killed in a truck accident, it is the victim that pays the biggest price.

What to know for my Tulsa truck accident case

After you get yourself checked out by a medical professional, there are a few things you should know if you were in an accident with a truck. It is important to understand that there is likely more than one liable party responsible for the accident. It is crucial to pinpoint each responsible party to hold them accountable and optimize the available insurance coverage so that you are able to receive as much compensation as possible.

Possible truck accident parties that could be held liable for the accident include:

  • The driver
  • Truck owners
  • The trucking company employing the driver
  • Load brokers
  • Shipping companies requiring cargo transportation
  • Truck maintenance workers
  • Safety inspectors

It may seem like a huge undertaking, but that is why it is important to have an experienced and knowledgeable attorney and legal team on your side. At Biby Law Firm, our team of legal professionals knows exactly how to handle truck accident cases, as we have successfully represented clients throughout Oklahoma and surrounding states. Just take a look at our Verdicts and Settlements. Let us help you get the compensation that you rightfully deserve. To schedule a free consultation with us, call us today in Tulsa, or use our contact page.