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Safety Rules Damned When it Comes to Truck Companies Cutting Costs

October 22, 2009 by Steven M. Gursten

In the last two days, I’ve written about the enormous hidden safety crisis of the large numbers of truck drivers under influence of drugs or alcohol causing truck accidents on our roads. I’ve written about how tens of thousands of truckers and trucking companies conspire to cheat drug tests by using masking products and how truck companies are not required to run (and therefore largely avoid) criminal background checks on drivers. I reviewed a news report that cited hundreds of thousands of drivers carrying commercial licenses even though they qualify for full federal disability; and how many of these truckers do this by picking their own doctors to clear them, no matter how serious their underlying medical conditions. This is a practice the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has been trying to prevent since at least 2001.

Why does this happen?

Why do trucking companies do this?

What are the financial incentives that create these dangerous conditions for the public?

As an attorney handling truck accidents, former president of the American Association for Justice Truck Litigation Group, and a member of the Board of Governors for the Association of Plaintiff Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, allow me to explain what I see every day in my own truck accident cases.

There are a number of smaller trucking operations who will hire anyone, rules be damned.

And I do mean anyone.

One study suggests as many as 25 percent of truck drivers for these small one to 10 vehicle truck companies are even driving without CDLs. There are also a number of one-man operations where the guy goes out, buys a truck and works as a subcontractor; again in many cases, without a CDL or proper insurance.

And it goes like this: These local “gypsy” or “bandit” truck companies subcontract with load brokers on the Internet, let’s say, for 90 cents a mile (which is a low bid). The load broker is paid $1.50 a mile, so there is big money at stake for the load brokers to use unsafe trucking companies that do not play by the rules. They have a huge incentive to subcontract to the cheapest drivers, who not coincidentally, are also often the most unfit drivers that can bid lower than everyone else. In other words, these are the truckers who are not performing safety and maintenance checks and not properly insuring the trucks.

The subcontractors also hire the worst drivers. Remember, a good truck driver who has an excellent safety record and has driven a million miles without causing any accidents is more expensive. This is how truckers who have caused too many serious truck crashes or who have a criminal past get hired. Remember, all the load broker has to do is bid on a contract on a computer. The load brokers keep the difference and have a huge financial incentive to hire the low bid.

Finding the Bad Truck Companies

But this practice is something that is incredibly easy to prevent from a load broker’s standpoint. It just takes two clicks on the Internet — one click to a FMCSA website called Safersys.org, type in the name of the carrier and then click to the truck company safety snapshot. Visit our truck accident attorney Web page for a step-by-step guide to finding the dirt on unsafe trucking companies using Safersys and SafeStat.

Most of these unsafe trucking companies and drivers have either a conditional safety rating (which means that the company has demonstrated it does not have appropriate safety programs), an unsatisfactory rating, or no rating whatsoever.

In Michigan, there were 1,087 trucking companies that had either conditional or unsatisfactory safety ratings. I discovered this astounding and scary fact after I sent a FOIA request to the FMCSA last year.

There is no easy answer. State-hopping by bad truckers is common, as is trucking companies shutting down and re-opening under a new name, but with the exact same unsafe trucks and unfit drivers. While the regulatory and enforcement vacuum continues to exist, allowing this to happen, the only short-term solution is to work with experienced truck accident attorneys who know what to look for and can properly investigate the real facts behind horrific truck accidents.

To my lawyer friends out there in other states, start suing those load brokers. They are putting the good truckers and trucking companies out of business, and picking the cheap bids without any regard to public safety or whether these trucking companies are following mandatory safety laws.

Many literally have blood on their hands.

Steven M. Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling serious truck accident injury cases. He has received the largest reported jury verdict for an auto accident case in Michigan in four of the last seven years, including 2008. Recently, he was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his tireless efforts to hold trucking companies accountable for negligence.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Howardigantius

Related information:

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Truck Driver Safety

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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. If you have been involved in a truck accident, call one of our attorneys for a free consultation at (248) 353-7575.

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