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Regulators try to crack down and prevent fatal accidents

Recent federal data reveals that there were 3,800 truck accidents in eight Southern Tier New York counties between 2000 and 2013. These crashes resulted in 67 deaths. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported that there were 1,576 fatal crashes involving trucks in the state in 2012.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rates carriers on seven categories ranging from vehicle maintenance to unsafe driving and to driver fitness. A poor score in unsafe driving is most closely associated with crash risk.

The FMSCA made recent changes that increased its enforcement efforts and does not strictly focus on the most crash-prone carriers. It increased its interventions against carriers by 67 percent between 2009 and 2012. Warning letters were sent to 24,126 carriers and the FMSCA conducted 20,213 investigations of about 315,000 active carriers. There were twice as many investigations as warning letters in 2009.

However, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report in February finding that the FMSCA utilizes procedures that do not focus enforcement efforts on carriers having the worst safety records. A spokesman for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety argued that the FMSCA should initiate action instead of merely sending a warning letter when haulers receive a poor safety score.

Advocates referred to an accident in Ithaca involving a tractor trailer that careened down a street and crashed into a bistro on June 20. The company was cited in roadside inspections for over 130 violations in the two years before this accident.

Ithaca police cited the driver for having a defective brake-limit device and over-length vehicle. A subsequent FMSCA investigation revealed that the trucking company that owned the truck did not conduct post-accident testing on the driver for controlled substances and alcohol. In addition, its mechanic lacked qualifications to conduct legally-required annual inspections of commercial motor vehicles. Furthermore, the company did not enter its drivers in random drug testing programs, did not perform proper driving history checks for new drivers and did not assure that driver logbook entries were correct.

As this shows, New York motorists and drivers face the risk of a fatal accident caused by a reckless or negligent truck driver or trucking company. Families of these victims should seek assistance to determine whether a wrongful death action is warranted and to assure that their rights are protected in lawsuits or settlement negotiations.

Source: Elmira Star Gazette, “Weak regulators? Death by truck on New York’s roads,” Steve Reilly, Oct. 10, 2014