The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was publicly criticized by the National Transportation Safety Board recently for “inadequate safety oversight of highrisk carriers” after an investigation of a fatal crash in Illinois in which fatigue was blamed.
The criticism comes after the National Transportation Safety Board announced that the probable cause of a fatal January 2014 crash near Naperville, Ill., was a truck driver’s delayed reaction caused by fatigue and the poor safety behavior of a high-risk motor carrier.
2014 Crash Details
One person died and two people, including an Illinois State Police officer, were seriously injured when a truck-tractor, operated by high-risk motor carrier DND International, Inc., struck emergency vehicles stopped in the right lane of Interstate 88 while assisting a disabled tractor trailer operated by another high-risk motor carrier, Michael’s Cartage.
The NTSB found in addition to the driver’s fatigue, caused by inadequate sleep, the failure of the high-risk carrier DND International to ensure that its driver adhered to federal hours-of-service regulations contributed to the crash. Also contributing, the NTSB found, was the federal regulator’s inadequate safety oversight of high-risk carriers.
In the crash, the DND International truck, which was towing a flatbed trailer loaded with steel coils, first struck an Illinois State Police patrol car, pushing it off the road. Flames engulfed the patrol car, seriously injuring the police officer. The truck then crashed into a Highway Emergency Lane Patrol (HELP) truck, sandwiching it between the striking truck and the disabled tractor-trailer, fatally injuring the HELP truck driver. That impact then pushed the disabled tractor trailer into a heavy-duty tow truck.
What the NTSB Determined
NTSB investigators found that despite several clearly visible warning indicators on the roadway, the driver of the DND International truck did not slow down or steer to avoid the stopped vehicles, and applied the brakes just one second before impact. NTSB investigators further determined that he had slept less than four and a half of the 37 hours preceding the crash.
Fatigue is an issue on the NTSB’s 2016 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements because it continues to cause crashes, not only on our nation’s highways, but in all modes of transportation.
“Fatigued driving kills,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart, “and motor carriers that do not ensure that their drivers follow regulations designed to prevent fatigued driving are unsafe and should not be able to continue operating.”
Both DND International and Michael’s Cartage had longstanding records of poor safety behavior and were categorized as high risk carriers by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Yet for years, due to lack of resources and unsuccessful regulatory action, the FMCSA was unable to get the carriers to improve their safety behaviors in a meaningful way or to stop them from operating.
Recommendations to FMCSA
In its Feb. 9 report, NTSB said that as a result of this crash investigation, it is making these new safety recommendations to FMCSA:
- Develop and implement a notification program that automatically sends a letter to any motor carrier with Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) scores defined as “high risk,” making it a “mandatory carrier.” This letter should state that the carrier is in high-risk status and should warn that the carrier has been placed on the mandatory compliance review list because of its increased crash risk. In addition, send the carrier’s insurance provider or surety a copy of the letter.
- Form a working group consisting of safety partners, industry representatives and insurers to determine ways to share information that would prompt noncompliant and unsafe carriers to take appropriate remedial action.
- Suspend the operating authority of any carrier that has five or more intervention alerts in its BASICs, demonstrating that it is not fit, willing, or able to comply with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. The carrier should be informed as to what actions it must take to demonstrate that it has corrected its safety issues and improved its safety procedures to reverse the suspension.
- Review the process and procedures for imminent hazard orders to identify ways to make this process work more swiftly and effectively.
NTSB Chairman Hart said, “High-risk carriers are a threat to all who use our roadways. Such carriers cannot be permitted to operate with impunity, as did the two carriers involved in this tragic and preventable accident. The recent recommendations, if implemented, will expand the FMCSA’s toolkit for ensuring that high risk carriers either conduct their businesses safely or cease operations.”
Article by Michael Leizerman
Image Via NTSB
Michael Jay Leizerman is the managing partner at EJ Leizerman & Associates, LLC, Toledo, OH. He is a frequent lecturer who teaches other attorneys how to handle truck accident cases across the country.