DOT routinely finds truck and bus companies that pose an “imminent hazard to public safety”

by Michael Heygood

The primary mission of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. Like so many agencies today, they simply don’t have the staff or resources to keep up. For example, a study conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board showed that the federal agency in charge of oversight of buses is overwhelmed and understaffed, averaging one staff member for every 1000 companies.

Given the odds, it seems a safe bet that many non-compliant, unsafe companies are getting away with it. Thus, a look at recent enforcement actions by the DOT is both encouraging (at least some dangerous companies are being pulled off our roads) and rather alarming (just think of all the companies that haven’t been caught yet, or perhaps are operating just marginally above the DOT’s tolerance level).

For example, earlier this year, the DOT shut down 26 bus operations at once, declaring them imminent hazards to public safety. It’s the largest single safety crackdown in the agency’s history. The bus companies transported over 1,800 passengers a day along Interstate-95, from New York to Florida. The government began investigating the network of carriers operating along I-95 following a series of deadly bus crashes last spring. Federal safety investigators found all of the carriers had multiple safety violations, including a continuous pattern of using drivers without valid commercial driver’s licenses and failure to have alcohol and drug testing programs. In addition, the companies operated vehicles that had not been regularly inspected and repaired. The companies’ drivers also had serious hours-of-service and driver qualification violations

Additionally, this month, the DOT ordered Alabama-based truck company MTI Transportation, LLC, to immediately cease all transportation services based on evidence that it was a chameleon operation for two unsafe truck companies previously shut down by the agency. The companies were ordered to cease service due to serious federal safety violations in the areas of vehicle maintenance and driver drug and alcohol testing compliance.

In June, the DOT ordered Tennessee-based truck company Three Angels Farms and to immediately cease all transportation services based on serious safety violations that posed an imminent hazard to public safety. Wisconsin-based truck company WTSA US Express was ordered to immediately cease all transportation services, based on serious safety violations that posed an imminent hazard to public safety. Both of these companies were shutdown due to multiple federal violations in hours-of-service compliance, driver qualification requirements, drug and alcohol testing, and vehicle maintenance.

In April, the DOT declared Oklahoma-based Heartland Charters & Tours of an imminent hazard to public safety. The interstate passenger bus company was ordered to immediately shut down its operations. An extensive review of the company’s operations found multiple hours-of-service, vehicle maintenance, and controlled substance and alcohol testing violations. Safety investigators discovered that the company did not conduct pre-employment drug screenings of its drivers and failed to use properly qualified drivers, putting the public at risk.

That same month, DOT declared New Jersey-based J&A Transportation, Inc. an imminent hazard to public safety and ordered the commercial truck company to shut down its operations. The DOT ordered the shutdown of J&A Transportation after safety investigators found that the truck company continued to operate without an active USDOT number and valid operating authority. Investigators also discovered that the company operated vehicles that had serious mechanical defects, and were not regularly inspected and repaired. Additionally, the company’s drivers had serious hours-of-service and driver qualification violations that substantially increased the likelihood of serious injury or death to the traveling public.

These few examples from only a few months this year are meant to convey a general idea of what is really going in the commercial trucking industry. A recent DOT study found that no less than one-third of truck drivers involved in fatal accidents in 2010 were cited in police accident reports for such contributing “driver-related factors” as speeding, fatigue and inattention.

If you believe you may have claim due to an incident involving an eighteen-wheeler, commercial vehicle, truck, or bus, please contact Heygood, Orr & Pearson for a free evaluation. Our partners Michael Heygood, Jim Orr, and Eric Pearson are all Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Heygood and Mr. Orr are additionally Board Certified in Civil Trial Advocacy Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. We are extremely proud of the qualifications, knowledge, and experience of all our attorneys.

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