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Staggering Number of Dangerous Trucks is Only Tip of the Iceberg

Truck Accident Lawyer Steve Gursten Warns Michigan Drivers on CBS Radio

This morning, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by CBS radio personality Alisa Zee about my work to raise awareness on the dangerous trucking company crisis in Michigan and throughout the country. Countless drivers are being put in harm’s way each time they get behind the wheel. And as a truck accident lawyer who constantly sees families ravaged due to preventable truck accidents at the hands of careless truck companies, I’ve had enough.

The interview can be heard 6 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 13, on WYCD FM radio. It will be syndicated in Michigan and across the U.S.

Alisa was floored when I told her of the atrocities I’ve seen while litigating truck accident cases, such as the Nunez case. My client, a wonderful husband and father, was senselessly killed by a truck driver who admitted he had no training; who was driving a truck that was out-of-service five different ways; and who was on powerful epilepsy medication that causes drowsiness. Alisa also couldn’t believe there are more than 1,000 truck companies in Michigan — and more than 28,000 motor carrier companies nationally — that are violating federal safety regulations and causing such preventable truck accidents.

I explained to the radio host that last year, 22 percent of trucks on the road failed safety inspections. That is a staggering number, meaning about one of every four trucks on the road is dangerously out of service. But I’ve been a truck accident attorney for 15 years, and as past president of the national truck accident lawyer litigation group, I know that number is only the tip of the iceberg.

Truck Companies Given 5 Months to Prep for Inspections

The 22 percent statistic on out-of-service trucks is from Roadcheck 2009, where 9,700 Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) inspectors performed 72,782 truck inspections at 2,148 locations across the country over a three-day period. The problem is, the date for these inspections was announced five months in advance and widely known in the trucking industry! So even with most trucking company safety directors keeping their “really bad trucks” off the roads during this inspection time (or taking a vacation), 22 percent of the trucks that were inspected still failed truck safety inspections.

Imagine if a pop quiz was announced – five months in advance. You can bet there would be a lot of people not showing up to school that day, and those that did show up would be more prepared than usual. In other words, the 22 percent of trucks that failed truck safety inspections only includes those trucking companies so reckless that they didn’t stay off the roads for the three days that the inspections were announced.

There are some other very disturbing problems with these numbers that minimize the public safety crisis.

Chameleon Carriers

The 22 percent number also doesn’t include the more than 500 trucking companies ordered to be shut down by the FMCSA but who are instead continuing to operate under different names. It doesn’t take into account the 1,073 commercial trucking companies that are believed to be “reincarnations” after they’ve received substantial safety fines and violations. These reincarnated trucking carriers, also known as chameleon trucking companies, have the same trucks, drivers, owners, and contact information, according to a 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office report.

And, another 2005 GAO study indicates that one-third of all truck accidents are never reported by trucking companies, further skewing truck accident statistics. The crashes are never reported because the truck was found at-fault for causing the crash.

Truck Drivers Under the Influence

Finally, the CVSA study also showed that 92,500 truck drivers on the road today are under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol. But that number is also just the tip of the iceberg. A recent MSNBC article, “Study finds sick truckers causing fatal wrecks,” suggests the numbers of unfit truck drivers, such as those with heart issues, seizure disorders, extreme fatigue and sleep apnea, is far higher.

There have been widespread calls since 2001 for the FMCSA to stop the practice of letting truck drivers choose their own doctors, or “doctor shopping,” in order to be “cleared” to hop on the road again. This is yet another factor significantly undermining the numbers of unfit truckers driving inherently hazardous big- rig trucks on our roads.

All that being said, I want to stress that I’m not against truckers. The people who are generally most supportive of truck safety efforts are the good trucking companies and especially the good truck drivers who play by the rules; but who get undermined on jobs by the bad trucking companies that cut maintenance and inspections costs, as well as driver safety training. I have an entire section of my Web site devoted to truck driver support.

But there is now a full-blown truck safety crisis in this country. The only ones who do not fully comprehend this yet is the public, who are endangered everyday by unsafe trucks on our roads. As a lawyer handling serious truck accidents, I only see this trend getting worse, not better, because the economy is leading more and more trucking companies to take shortcuts on safety and put more unfit drivers on the roads.

This is happening at the worst possible time, when states like Michigan and the federal government cannot ramp up inspections and safety because there is not enough money to pursue better enforcement efforts.

Steve Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling serious truck accident injury cases. He is on the executive board of governors representing Michigan for the Association of Plaintiff Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, and is past president of the American Association for Justice Interstate Truck Litigation Group. Steve has received the largest jury verdict for an automobile accident case in Michigan in four of the last seven years, including 2008, according to Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by winkyintheuk

Related information:

8 Things You Must Know About Your Truck Accident Case

Safe Driving Tips to Prevent Truck Accidents

Help for Attorneys Handling Truck Accident Cases

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout Michigan. For more information, please read our law firm quick facts.

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