Rule of the Road No. 9 – How Trucking Companies Aid and Abet Bad Drivers in Breaking Laws
One of the most important federal safety regulations that many truck accident attorneys have never heard of is Rule 49 CFR ? 390.13, which states that no person shall aid, abet, encourage, or require a motor carrier or its employees to violate the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
Today, I want to take a look at how some bad operators routinely disregard truck safety regulations, putting profits above the safety of families on our roads. This also punishes the good trucking companies that try to do the right thing because they’re now at a competitive disadvantage. It becomes a vicious cycle, as good companies continue to get squeezed by bad operators that sacrifice safety. In some cities, like Detroit , “gypsy” trucking companies, many of them driving “bare” without any insurance (let alone safety and maintenance programs), continually undercut some very good local trucking companies who are trying to play by the rules.
Why does this happen?
The commercial transportation industry is competitive. In today’s environment, even more so. Trucking carriers are constantly looking to expedite deliveries at the lowest price possible and pay truck drivers the least amount to do so. Using this business model, truck companies typically pay their drivers by the mile and do not compensate them for “on-duty” time spent on inspections, required rest times, or time out-of-service due to safety and maintenance concerns. Inevitably, the hours of service regulations and the vehicle inspection requirements get ignored entirely in favor of maximizing driving time.
This philosophy helps carriers seeking to accomplish the shortest delivery times possible – safety be damned. Good truckers, those who have driven hundreds of thousands of miles, also get punished in favor of cheaper drivers, many of whom hop from state to state because of the points and accidents on their driving records. We call these truckers “grasshoppers.”
This little gem of a regulation, Rule 49 CFR ? 390.13, brings out the real “finger-pointing” of any trucking case, especially with terminated employees. For example, the industry is full of “grasshoppers.” If they get fired, as many of them will for too many accidents, or for failing drug and alcohol testing; the terminated drivers are more likely to explain what really happens at these companies. They will explain how many of the truck companies put pressure on drivers to drive over hours, and how they often routinely fail to abide by safety regulations or have no real safety programs to begin with.
I’ve found that quite often, a negligent trucker will acknowledge that he was driving well past his 11-hour limit on a particular day, because “he was on a hot load” that had to get delivered to a customer by a deadline. At this point, the driver will blame the dispatcher, the transportation manager, or even the president of the company (which I’ve found at times all to be the same person), who pressured him to make a delivery that could not possibly be accomplished without breaking the law.
One word about truck drivers. I genuinely like many truckers I meet. And many feel genuine outrage and anger at employers that put pressure on them – sometimes outright threats – to break safety laws so they can make more money. Talk to these drivers – even when a defense lawyer says they want to admit negligence on a truck accident case. It is often amazing what they will say to you if you just ask them. And treat them in a polite and respectful manner. Often it is the trucking company, not the driver, who is really to blame as these drivers are put in impossible situations.
Remember, thou shalt not aid nor abet! With this rule, truck accident attorneys knowingly have another party to hold accountable – the truck company itself that puts pressure on its own drivers to break the law.
My series on “Rules of the Road” for truck accident attorneys from my recent truck litigation seminar in New Orleans will continue Thursday.
– Steven M. Gursten is a partner of Michigan Auto Law. He has received the top reported trial verdict in Michigan for truck accidents and is past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Litigation Group. Last year, he was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his efforts in promoting truck safety in Michigan.
– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by williamcho
Previous blogs from “Rules of the Road Every Truck Accident Lawyer Needs to Know” series:
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