New Law Helps Truckers Dispute Blame for Truck Crashes

For those not familiar with the industry, truckers and trucking companies are hired by transportation brokerage firms across the country. These firms partner with manufacturers and coordinate prices for the transportation of freight from one place to another.

When choosing the right trucker or trucking company, brokers should take multiple factors into consideration, including:

• Price

• Timing/reliability

• Compliance, Safety & Accountability scores (CSA scores)

• Use of safety technology

• Financial stability

• Dedication to public safety

CSA scores are administered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to rate the quality of drivers and trucking companies. These scores are based on the number of miles driven by a driver or company, the number of power units, the frequency of safety inspections, the number of safety violations, and the number and severity of crashes. CSA scores are a determining factor for whether truck drivers or companies are hired by brokers, but they only measure compliance with the minimum requirements established by the FMCSA.

Brokers and shippers should be careful not to rely exclusively on CSA scores, as an unblemished CSA record is not always indicative of a motor carrier’s commitment to safe operations. For example, some smaller motor carriers may not have sufficient roadside inspections to generate data to support a score. In addition, the trucking industry has been working since 2010 to water-down the scoring mechanisms. For example, in spite of strong evidence indicating that involvement in a truck crash is a reliable predictor of future crash risk, the trucking industry was recently able to convince the FMCSA to begin a process under which a motor carrier can have a truck crash “not count” against its CSA crash score if certain conditions are met.

Under this new program, truckers and trucking companies will be allowed to present evidence of their choosing, and ask that the FMCSA reevaluate whether previous crashes were “preventable” or “not preventable.” If the review determines—based only on evidence provided by the truck driver or company—that the crash was not preventable, the crash will no longer count against the driver or company’s crash and safety record.

Basically, if a trucker can convince the FMCSA that a crash wasn’t their fault, based on any documentation they can scrape up, the negative scoring for that crash will be erased from their record. Even more importantly, victims of the crash and their families don’t have to be notified of this change.

The watering-down of this aspect of the CSA program jeopardizes the safety of the motoring public across the country by allowing truckers with crashes on their record to hide that information from brokers and get back on the road. It also makes the selection of safe motor carriers by brokers and shippers more difficult.

It is incumbent upon brokers and shippers to use proper methods of identifying motor carriers that are truly committed to safe operation and to not only use a scoring tool that uses minimum-required regulatory compliance to evaluate motor carrier safety. As more and more of our nation’s freight is being brokered out to the “bottom end” of the trucking industry, there will be more and more truck crashes that result in serious injury and death.

If you or a loved one has already been in a truck crash, it is very important to contact an attorney immediately, before speaking to any representatives of the trucking company or its insurer.