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Michigan among most dangerous states for truck accidents

May 4, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan ranks among the top 10 states with the highest number of unsafe truck drivers

The reason we have so many truck accidents in Michigan is a direct result of the numbers of unsafe truck drivers. And it is particularly sobering when one considers that these numbers likely represent only the tip of the iceberg.

Michigan is among the nation’s top 10 states with the highest percentage of trucking companies that have “unsafe driving alerts,” according to Amy Roach Partridge, Love it or Hate it, CSA is Here to Stay, InBound Logistics, September 2011.

The remaining states with the highest percentage of commercial trucking companies with Unsafe Driving alerts are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico and West Virginia.

Top 10 states with highesy number of unsafe truckers

I found this piece of information in the American Association for Justice Truck Safety Alert: The Rising Dangers from Trucks and How to Stop It (February 2013).

Sadly, the dangers of unsafe trucks and dangerous truck drivers are not new.  In 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found over seven million violations during roadside inspections. In approximately 980,000 of those cases, the violation resulted in the driver or truck being placed out of service (FMCSA Announces Results of 2012 Drug and Alcohol Inspection Strike Force, FMCSA, June 25).

Why do I say that the numbers of unsafe drivers are likely just the tip of the iceberg?  Remember the numbers of inspections are very low, but the results are astounding.  For instance, in a special inspection “sweep” in 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) identified 287 drivers in violation of drug and alcohol regulations, and 128 truck and bus companies that had hired drivers who had tested positive for illegal drugs or had failed to institute drug and alcohol testing.

In addition, during a 2012 brake safety sweep, federal, state and local safety inspectors placed one in seven inspected trucks out of service for brake issues. But these sweeps scattered across the country lasted two weeks or less, and target just a fraction of total truck traffic on our roads and highways.

Most concerning for me as a lawyer who specializes in truck accident cases, these sweeps are also often  announced a head of time, so truck companies have time to take the worst trucks and their worst drivers off the roads during these pre-announced testing and inspection dates.

We will never know until there are comprehensive, random inspections just how bad the safety epidemic of unsafe trucks on our roads and highways actually is.

And these inspection results should not be interpreted to mean that unsafe trucking companies are being weeded out and taken off the road. Especially in states like Michigan, where much of the trucking industry is characterized by small motor carriers with shifting ownerships and management structures.

When they are placed “out of service,” truck companies are often are “reincarnated” under different names and continue to operate and avoid penalties. Lawyers and safety advocates call these trucking companies “chameleon carriers,” because they change names like a chameleon changes colors, but with the exact same trucks, drivers and owners operating under a new name once the old company piles up too many safety violations.

These chameleon commercial vehicle carriers are very hard to catch.

According to the AAJ Research report:

“The volume of new company applicants combined with an oversight system made up of disparate databases has made reincarnation an almost impossible challenge for regulators. A lack of resources and the sheer number of applicants for carrier licenses means the agency checks for chameleons among bus companies and household movers, but the FMCSA does not check the 97 percent of applicants that are truck companies for potentially dangerous chameleons.

As hard as it is for regulators to catch a company operating with dangerous disregard for safety, the reality of reincarnation is that regulators may have to catch that same company again and again. With more than 10 million trucks on the road, an economic model that encourages risk-taking and a raft of ever-shifting targets, inspecting authorities must deal with an impossible “needle in a haystack” scenario. There are simply too many dangers to catch.”

Related information:

Making sense of truck accidents: The causes

Cracking down on chameleon carriers


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