In January 2014, just outside of Naperville, a DND International driver struck an emergency response vehicle, killing one and injuring two more. The driver and the company had a long history of vehicle neglect, causing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to label DND International a “high-risk carrier.”
After a thorough investigation of the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ruled the accident the result of driver fatigue in 2016. The NTSB quickly pointed another finger at the FMCSA for failure to address the chronic problem of “high risk carriers.”
Following the release of the report, and in conjunction with a Chicago truck accident attorney, the FMCSA made several changes to the “high risk carrier” designation.
What Are “High Risk Carriers?”
“High risk carriers” are any company that meets the following criteria:
- Exceeds the 90th percentile of the Behavior Analysis Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs)
- Violates BASICs for at least two months in a row
- Has not received an inspection by the FMCSA for at least 18 months
The new rules raised the percentile for violations, but FMCSA claims the reduction in the number of carriers labeled as “high risk” will actually benefit drivers by allowing the agency to focus on those companies who are the most serious violators.
FMCSA uses the BASICs to determine four factors that require special attention for carriers.
The first and most obvious indicator of “high risk carriers” is the frequency and severity of accidents in which a company’s trucks are involved. Companies with high crash frequencies or an abnormally high number of serious injuries or deaths are considerably more dangerous than companies with lower numbers.
As of December, and the passage of the FAST Act, crash rankings are no longer available to the public, but the Department of Transportation and local law enforcement do have the scores, allowing them to target “high risk carriers” for close scrutiny.
Almost every Chicago truck accident attorney agrees that the best way to prevent accidents is to limit the behaviors that cause accidents. The FMCSA targets unsafe driving habits as the root cause of many accidents, and includes behavior in the BASICs rankings.
Unsafe driving can mean many things. Drivers with a history of speeding or aggressively moving in and out of lanes may be considered unsafe. Trucks that are consistently overloaded are an indicator of negligence that can lead to an accident. The FMCSA blames the company for these unsafe behaviors, because either the company makes poor hiring choices, or it creates a culture in which safe driving is not a priority. In either case, the FMCSA labels them “high risk carriers.”
Hours of Operation
Countless debates have been waged in the halls of Congress over how many hours a trucker should be allowed to drive in a given week. Drivers, trucking companies, and their lobbyists argue for longer weeks, because that is the only way drivers can make money. Safety groups and the FMCSA argue longer hours promote poor habits and allow fatigued drivers on the road.
When a trucker violates the federal drive time rules, a Chicago truck accident attorney can prove driver negligence and seek compensation. A driver who violates drive time rules is assumed to be fatigued, and incapable of operating a truck at a high level. Companies that force drivers to keep dual sets of logs or use fraudulent drive time records are “high risk carriers,” because they encourage truckers to put the public at risk.
The one area where the FMCSA, and a Chicago truck accident attorney, can hold a company directly responsible for its actions is vehicle maintenance. Poor vehicle care can cause parts, like brakes or clutches, to fail when they are needed most, which leads to accidents. Other maintenance tasks, such as replacing wiper blades, are necessary to give drivers a safe operating environment.
Federal inspectors conduct on-site investigations to look at maintenance logs and trucks to verify that the logged work has actually been completed. Variations between the work and the logs, or a poor history of maintenance, will lead to a “high risk carrier” label.
What Is Illinois Doing About “High-Risk Carriers?”
Updates to the regulations for “high risk carriers” at the federal level helps Illinois law enforcement keep a close eye on perpetual violators. Information about the BASICs scores and the Safety Measurement System is shared between the federal and state agencies so that law enforcement may be proactive against “high risk carriers.” The state will also work with FMCSA investigators to facilitate the on-site inspection of suspected violators.
“High risk carriers” are a serious public safety risk, and the FMCSA’s new guidelines will allow the government to better handle serial violators. A Chicago truck accident attorney can use federal data against “high risk carriers” to seek compensation after an accident.