The road to improved trucking safety is not paved with more money
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has reported an increase in truck accidents and fatality rates in recent years. This statistical trend has led to a call from conscientious and well-meaning safety advocates to impose even more onerous requirements on carriers of motor vehicles of all types. Predictably, members of the legal profession who represent those injured in collisions involving large trucks also see the potential for greater financial rewards by calling for higher insurance requirements for these carriers.
However, a closer look at the statistics reveals an increase in accidents at all levels on our roads, considering passenger vehicles. At first glance, this increase seems puzzling in light of the decrease in overall traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the adoption of work-from-home policies that have limited office travel and driving habits for many. consumers. There is some logic in believing that the resulting decrease in traffic has led to increased speed and inattentiveness of drivers still traveling on the roads, and therefore more accidents, especially fatal ones .
[Related: NHTSA: Truck-involved crash deaths dipped in 2020 despite overall fatalities increase]
Be that as it may, the statistics indicate a number of distinct and distinct categories of motor carrier compliance with safety measures. The factors contributing to these increases are multiple in nature in both private passenger transportation and the FMCSA-regulated transportation industry. Frankly, it is inappropriate to look at these statistical increases and blame it solely on the trucking industry.
When considering questions of responsibility and liability for any traffic accident, causation is often the result of unseen circumstances, sudden emergencies or even the fault of the driver of a passenger vehicle involved. Certainly, there are many cases where it is revealed that the responsibility for the accident belongs to the plaintiff who brought the lawsuit against the owner of the truck.
But those gray areas seem to mean little to the black-and-white view that places the blame for every collision on a fleet owner or independent owner-operator.
[Related: How to confront the post-crash-litigation threat: Start at the scene of the accident]
There are certainly carriers in the trucking industry that operate beyond the limits of safety regulations, coupled with those that do not maintain adequate insurance. Yet the vast majority of all carriers have more than enough insurance in all areas to legally and ethically deal with any type of motor vehicle accident that may occur. Whether it’s the transportation industry or any other industry where insurance plays a role, it can always be argued that more insurance is always better.
But it’s not always the case.
The argument that increasing insurance premiums is the most effective way to incentivize trucking companies to be safe and encourage even stricter compliance with regulations is simply false. The trucking industry is more regulated and safer, with more rules and more safety protocols than at any time in the company‘s history. We’ve seen the use of all sorts of devices, almost every type of training you can imagine, and other mechanisms to protect drivers and keep their rigs running safely.
Unfortunately, all an increase in insurance premiums will do is incentivize plaintiffs to bring more lawsuits against trucking companies and provide a financial threshold for lawyers to further raise their claims for damages. In other words, more confidence is not synonymous with security; more insurance creates greater claims for damages in litigation.
[Related: How the nuclear-verdicts threat rolls downhill to small fleets, owner-operators]
Overall, the transportation industry prioritizes safety. But that doesn’t mean every commercial driver – or passenger vehicle drivers – will operate accident-free and injury-free. There are signs along the highway advising drivers of all types of vehicles to watch their speed, not to text their phones, to be careful of work areas ahead and much more. Yet we still have motor vehicle accidents, always caused by a combination of emergencies, excessive speed, inattention, ignorance, impatience, drunkenness and the emotions of at least one driver.
These factors are not exclusive to commercial operators and carriers. But unfortunately, it seems that every accident involving a transportation company results in a lawsuit, regardless of the actual facts or fault. There are a number of cases in the transportation world that would never be brought if it weren’t for the fact that the defendant in the case is a carrier with an adequate amount of insurance to sue.
It is not an increase in insurance requirements that will improve safety, reduce accidents or lead to fewer lawsuits against motor vehicle carriers. It seems the transportation industry isn’t getting the credit it deserves for the huge advances in protocols and practices that protect everyone on the road.
The sad fact remains that the industry will continue to face the challenges of falling prey as drivers and owners carry adequate insurance to make a valid legal claim. As industry leaders and advocates, we must be prepared to rebuff any attempt by plaintiffs’ attorneys or others to simplistically position the path to improved security as paved with more money.
[Related: How a plaintiffs’ attorney shop works — and how truckers can play defense to work it]