Motor Carriers Hit Over Safety; Are Insurance Limits Too Low?

August 31, 2009

A new analysis of government data reveals that more than 28,000 motor carrier companies that operate 200,000 trucks have violated federal safety regulations.

The trial bar association, the American Association for Justice (AAJ), said it found commuters are sharing roads with trucks that have incurred thousands of safety violations, such as defective brakes, bald tires, loads that dangerously exceed weight limits and drivers with little or no training or drug and alcohol dependencies.

The group also said that current minimum insurance requirements for truckers are inadequate.

AAJ said it obtained data on the safety performance of U.S. trucking companies from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

States found to have a rate of companies in violation of safety requirements above the national average include West Virginia, North Dakota, Nebraska, Vermont, Iowa, Montana, Delaware, Idaho, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Indiana, Mississippi, Wisconsin, and South Dakota.

According to the FMCSA, more than 4,000 people die every year in collisions with trucks and 80,000 more are seriously injured. Also, though trucks make up less than four percent of all passenger vehicles on U.S. roads, they are involved in 12 percent of all motor vehicles fatalities.

AAJ also maintains that the minimum insurance requirements for commercial trucks are “completely inadequate to compensate those who have been seriously injured in a collision involving multiple vehicles or multiple injured individuals.” In 1980, Congress set the minimum level of insurance to $750,000; when adjusted for inflation, $750,000 is just $292,000 in 1980 dollars, according to the analysis.

While large trucking companies may carry more than the required level of coverage, smaller companies often carry just the bare minimum, according to the AAJ. AAJ’s analysis of the U.S. trucking industry found that 87 percent of the companies in violation of safety standards are small companies that have fleets of 10 trucks or less.

The AAJ said that many deadly accidents involving unsafe trucks are never recorded as safety violations. A 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that nearly one-third of commercial motor vehicle crashes that states are required to report to the federal government were never recorded. Additionally, state crash reports were not always accurate.

The analysis by AAJ follows a July 2009 GAO study which found that more than 1,000 commercial trucking firms that were ordered out of service because of federal safety violations evaded compliance by operating under a different name, but often using the same owner, address and employees.

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