Are Federal Safety Investigators Asleep at the Wheel When It Comes to Protecting Us from Tractor Trailer Crashes?

Federal truck safety regulators aren’t being aggressive enough in pulling unsafe truck drivers off the road and shutting down shoddy trucking companies and bus companies, according to the leaders of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is charged with overseeing commercial truck and bus safety. But the NTSB, which investigates the cause of accidents, has strongly criticized the federal agency’s recent performance in enforcing truck safety regulations. It claims that the FMCSA either didn’t detect problems or ignored red flags and didn’t remove dangerous drivers from the road in time to prevent four commercial vehicle crashes that claimed 25 lives and caused 83 injuries.

In a recent article by USA Today, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said that the FMCSA needs to crack down before crashes occur, not just after high-visibility events. “Our investigators found that in many cases, the poor performing company was on FMCSA’s radar for violations, but was allowed to continue operating and was not scrutinized closely until they had deadly crashes,” she said.

A new federal report, published in November, shows a 3.7 percent increase in tractor trailer accidents nationwide in 2012. Most of the more than 3,900 people who died in those collisions with 18-wheelers were either occupants of cars and pickup trucks or riding motorcycles. In South Carolina, 82 people died in crashes involving large trucks last year. Nearly all of those who died in truck accidents in South Carolina were in other vehicles.

That is why federal truck safety regulators need to do their jobs and enforce truck safety laws aggressively.

The NTSB is an independent federal agency given authority by Congress to examine the probable cause of transportation accidents. The NTSB said in a statement that it made some troubling discoveries in the four commercial vehicle collisions that launched its latest probe. “In each accident, investigators identified safety deficiencies and noted red flags that had been present prior to the crashes, but were unnoticed or were not acted upon by FMCSA regulators until after the crashes.”

The NTSB is making two recommendations to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). In addition to requesting audits of FMCSA’s oversight procedures, it wants the DOT to explore any problems that the audits find during its analysis.

For its part, the FMCSA defended its track record, saying that the agency had in the past three years tripled the number of unsafe companies and drivers taken off the road.

Moreover, the FMCSA said that in 2012, it ordered 47 truck and bus companies to shut down immediately due to what it called “imminent hazards.” It also served federal orders to remove three dangerous truck drivers from the nation’s roadways last month.

In both truck and passenger vehicle crashes, the FMCSA determined that speeding was the top driver-related factor in fatal collisions. Distraction came in as the second most common accident factor for truckers. However, fatigue, alcohol or drug use or illness assumed the number two slot for four-wheelers.

Unsafe commercial truck drivers put everyone in danger. We hope that you never have to experience the aftermath of a commercial vehicle operator’s poor decisions behind the wheel. However, if you or a loved one has been seriously injured due to a truck accident in South Carolina, it’s important that you know your legal rights by speaking with a tractor-trailer accident attorney.