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NTSB: Truck accidents can be prevented with better regulation

As a follow-up to one of our recent posts, consider the following scenario. In January 2014, a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel. This is unsurprising in light of the fact that he had slept for just 4.5 of the past 37 hours. When the driver fell asleep, his giant rig slammed into some emergency vehicles, seriously injuring a state trooper and killing a tollway worker.

Could this accident have been predicted and prevented? The answer now seems to be a clear “yes.” The truck driver’s employer had already been labeled “high-risk” by regulators because of a long record of safety problems. But the company was not taken out of service or even forced to comply with safety rules. It took two months after the deadly crash for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to order the company to shut down, classifying it as an “imminent hazard.”

These findings were the result of a crash investigation recently released by the National Transportation Safety board. In addition to the company’s known safety problems, the NTSB said, the at-fault driver had been violating hours-of-service regulations and falsifying his log book entries.

Sadly, this kind of incident is not unique. There are many trucking companies and truck drivers that show a reckless disregard for the safety of others. In addition to the obvious causes of this deadly crash, the NTSB noted that poor oversight by regulators was also to blame.

As we noted in our earlier post, the FMCSA has neither the resources nor the authority to effectively regulate trucking safety. There are too many companies, and the required inspection/suspension procedures are too bureaucratic.

To add insult to injury, the company involved in the fatal crash appealed its shut-down order and was able to stay in service. It only went out of operation after the company’s insurer cancelled coverage.

The NTSB suggested that communicating safety problems to insurance companies could help pressure trucking companies into safety compliance. But this idea is not a fix. At best, it is a band-aid. Instead, the FMCSA must be given the authority and funding it needs in order to adequately regulate this industry and to suspend dangerous carriers before they cause these fatal accidents.

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