Brad Pistotnik Law
Abogado El Toro

Maintenance Problems And Lack Of Training In The Trucking Industry

The inadequate maintenance of trucks is a direct cause of truck accidents. A substantial number of truck crashes are a direct result of mechanical failures in the tractors and/or trailers. These mechanical failures are due to the motor carrier’s failure to conduct appropriate daily inspections of the equipment and repair failing, broken, and defective equipment. Braking defects are the most common deficiency that leads to truck accidents. The brakes of a truck may cease to function or may not work with the required strength because they become oil-contaminated. Drivers often overlook defects in brakes because they conduct inadequate daily pretrip inspections. When a driver does a pretrip inspection, he must log all findings. It is in the driver’s discretion to overlook a defect if he finds one and commence driving a big rig in an unsafe condition. Tire inspections should be performed on a daily basis. Not performing these inspections will ultimately lead to a blowout. Motorists on the nation’s highways often see portions of blown-out tires from tractor-trailers. That is often caused by inadequate inspections and a lack of maintenance. The truck drivers often will notice that tread depth is at a very dangerous level. Rather than spend the required money that it would take to replace the tire, they fail to write down the finding on the log and start their trip. A blowout occurs and then the obvious happens. The tractor unit loses control or another motorist has an accident by coming upon the remnants of the stripped tire in the roadway. Safety concerns demand that the drivers perform the appropriate pretrip inspection on a regular basis. Wheel separations due to improperly fitted wheel and hub assemblies can cause truck accidents. Because wheel separations are a known and foreseeable occurrence, motor carriers are required to inspect for problems. When the period of inspection lags, the repair and maintenance is put off and accidents occur. Maintenance of the tractor and trailer is the duty of the motor carrier and the driver. The driver has a separate duty to inspect the tractor-trailer before leaving for a new destination and at specified intervals per the FMCSR. All of these factors fall under issues of proper repair and maintenance. Part 392.7 of the FMCSR on equipment inspection requires that no commercial motor vehicle shall be driven unless the driver is satisfied that the following parts and accessories are in good working order, nor shall the driver fail to use or make use of such parts and accessories as needed:

  1. Service brakes, including trailer brake connections
  2. Parking (hand) brake
  3. Steering mechanism
  4. Lighting devices and reflectors
  5. Tires
  6. Horn
  7. Windshield wipers
  8. Rear-vision mirrors
  9. Coupling devices

Subparagraph (b) of this regulation requires that the drivers operating the equipment over the road shall be deemed to have confirmed that the components were in good working order at the time that they accepted the equipment and made a decision to commence driving. In addition to all of the parts listed above, they must also check wheels, airline connections, kingpin upper coupling devices, rails or supporting frames, tie-down bolsters, locking pins, clamps, and sliding frame locks, as well as many other parts. The FMCSR requires the driver and carrier to keep maintenance and repair logs so that in the event of an accident, the FMCSA, highway patrol and other police officers can properly perform an inspection to help determine why the accident occurred in the first place. When drivers are stopped for roadside inspections by law officers, and bad violations are found, they will issue specific citations for violating regulations of the FMCSR. When the violations are severe, the driver and truck will be taken out of service. These violations are sent to the FMCSA, where the specific carrier information is maintained on all trucks that a motor carrier has driving for it. This allows a safety rating to be assigned to the motor carrier for their maintenance history. Any person or company can go to the following link and view the motor carrier’s maintenance history by inserting the carrier name or the motor carrier’s DOT number.

This allows the federal government, state government, police officers, and safety professionals, as well as lawyers bringing claims for injured victims of trucking accidents to perform an immediate search of the carrier’s past maintenance history. All of the citations are identified on the search pages. An individual searching here can review and print all applicable similar maintenance infractions. This allows the reviewing person or government entity to determine if the motor carrier has developed a habit and custom of failing to repair equipment. If a motor carrier’s rating of violations becomes high enough, the carrier will be red flagged for a review and a government audit occurs. The motor carrier has a duty, as does the driver, to keep the maintenance process logged and recorded properly. They are required to perform safety repairs when necessary and required. As noted above, as the rate of violations rises due to roadside inspections and accidents, the motor carrier’s rating becomes higher and higher. The end result of the government’s Safer System website is to try to have a prophylactic preventative system to identify motor carriers who do not follow the FMCSR. When an audit occurs, if the motor carrier fails to comply with the request from the DOT and the FMCSR, then the motor carrier may lose its operating authority under the DOT. When a motor carrier loses its operating authority, they are unable to transport goods throughout the United States on any highway, street, or roadway.

A motor carrier can maintain its appropriate authority and license to operate by simply taking a tractor-trailer out of service for a period of time to make the appropriate repairs. The reason that this is not done, on the occasions where a motor carrier fails to comply with the rules, is because a loss of profit occurs when the tractor-trailer is unable to move goods across the highways.

A conscious decision has to be made by the driver and/or the motor carrier to put off maintenance and repairs until another day. This reckless decision is a primary cause of injury and death in truck accidents. The truck driver is in the best possible position when he inspects the truck on a daily basis. The decision not to pay for the necessary repairs is one that is primarily made by the driver. However, the driver may be at the beck and call of the motor carrier. Sometimes, good drivers call their dispatch officers and inform them about the need for a repair and are told to continue driving the load so that the load is delivered on time. Drivers become fearful of losing their jobs due to reprimands, terminations, reduced pay, and lost bonuses. The system developed by the motor carrier that punishes the driver ultimately causes injury and death to other motorists. The duty of the driver and the motor carrier is combined.

The trucking company and the driver are typically called the “motor carrier.” Both must obey the same regulations in order to prevent injury and operate safely. Trucking organizations are obliged to follow the safety rules promulgated by the DOT and the FMCSA. The FMCSA set forth the required rules and regulations under Chapter 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The applicable sections are from section 380 to section 399. FMCSA regulation, part 396, requires that trucking and transport organizations examine their trucks, tractors, and trailers for maintenance. A qualified maintenance supervisor is obligated to analyze and examine all trucks in the organization's fleet at regular intervals and at a minimum of one time per year. The maintenance and repair investigation is a requirement that makes it mandatory that the motor carrier perform a thorough and complete inspection. The inspection requirement under part 396.3 requires that every motor carrier, and Intermodal equipment provider systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles and Intermodal equipment that are subject to the motor carrier’s control. This part requires that all parts and accessories be in safe and proper operating condition at all times. Part 396.7 forbids unsafe operation. It generally requires that a motor vehicle shall not be operated in such condition as to be likely to cause an accident or a breakdown of the vehicle. The FMCSA regulations, parts 393 and 396, require that all commercial trucks be legitimately maintained and repaired. The rules refer to specific maintenance issues that are known to be likely to cause accidents. Some of them are:

  • Inoperative Vehicle Lights: These incorporate turn signals, taillights, and headlamps.
  • Defective Lights: Retro-reflective stripping.
  • Tire Tread: The truck tire tread should not be less than 2/32 of an inch.
  • Trailer Lights: All trailer lights must be in working operation and visible.
  • Oil or Grease Leaks: The truck should not be spilling oil or grease.

The appropriate maintenance of trucks, both large trucks and semi-trucks, can mean the difference between life and death to smaller passenger vehicles on the roads. When the driver and motor carrier fail to properly maintain the vehicles, it will lead to accidents, causing human misery, suffering, and death. One reported accident that occurred in Caddo County, a few years ago provides an example of what can happen due to improper maintenance. In this particular accident, a semi had its rear axle come loose, which led to losing the tires and the capability of staying in the appropriate lane of travel. The driver obviously lost control. The duals of the fifth axle flew into the windshield of a passing vehicle and two teenagers were killed. The location of the accident was in a rural area. Emergency responders were not able to get to the site crash until a lengthy period of time later. By then, it was too late to save the occupants of the vehicle. This type of accident is preventable. Simple, appropriate maintenance, inspection, and repair would have prevented the axle from breaking. It is quite likely that the driver knew or reasonably should have known that the vehicle was not operating properly. Rather than shut down the vehicle and inspect the tractor-trailer, the driver chose to continue operation. Again, the driver and carrier have on-time requirements that make them ignore the obvious need for repairs. As the costs of maintenance and repair increase, the frequency of maintenance and repair decreases, which leads to injuries on highways. The importance of the motor carrier developing a safety inspection and maintenance program to comply with the FMCSR cannot be ignored. One of the best ways to prevent accidents is to make certain that the driver performs daily pretrip inspections. The motor carrier must perform their interval inspections as required. Annual inspections must be performed by qualified personnel who are trained to inspect and repair each and every part that may be defective. Accidents that are caused by mechanical failures are almost always preventable. Inspection and maintenance should lead to discovery of the defect or need for repair. For the motor carrier, taking the time and money necessary to stop the truck for a day, week, or month and bring it out of service would obviously lead to a loss of gross revenues. However, following the requirements would lead to a safe tractor-trailer operating on the roadways. In turn, the chance of a motor vehicle accident would be lessened. There are a number of measures that can be taken by trucking companies, especially those dealing with semi-trucks, to ensure that their vehicles are properly maintained:

  • A proper record-keeping system should be in place for timely maintenance, which records details of inspections and repairs performed on the trucks.
  • Motor carriers and drivers must be trained and supervised to know exactly when a truck is required to be taken out of service instead of waiting for roadside police inspections and/or accidents.
  • Motor carriers should purchase texts or manuals known as the Management Edition of the FMCSR, similar to the manual produced by TransProducts, which provides interpretive guidelines to follow the FMCSR. The appropriate safety and maintenance personnel then must be trained through appropriate classroom and video training to understand and comprehend the regulations so that an effective plan can be implemented. Drivers need to be trained on the very same information so that the driver understands when a motor vehicle must be taken out of service.
  • Motor carriers must develop a system of providing training to drivers to ensure they understand the current applicable regulations. The drivers then need to be tested on a weekly or monthly basis to determine their comprehension of the rules. Carriers know that many drivers do not read the information they provide. Only testing will determine if the driver has appropriately paid attention to the training that is supposedly being given. When a motor carrier fails to test the drivers on new information, they are turning a blind eye to safety.
  • Maintenance personnel must be taught to look for defects in the truck’s suspension, couplers, brakes, tires, wheels, and steering.
  • Companywide meetings, known as safety meetings, should be held on a weekly basis, followed by written comprehensive testing. This will help to eliminate the drivers who either will not read or learn the rules or are too incompetent to follow them.
Driver inspections are required under part 396.13 of the regulations. They require the driver to be satisfied that the motor vehicle is in safe operating condition before driving it. The driver is required to review the last driver vehicle inspection report. The driver is required to sign the report if defects or deficiencies are noted by the last driver. The driver is also required to sign the report to certify that required repairs have been performed. Periodic inspections are required under part 396.17. The inspection must include, at a minimum, parts and accessories set forth in appendix G of that subchapter. This part requires that a motor carrier must not use a commercial motor vehicle and an Intermodal equipment provider must not tender equipment to a motor carrier for interchange, unless each component identified in appendix G of that subchapter has passed an inspection in accordance with the terms of the section at least one time during the preceding twelve-month period. It requires documentation of the inspection on the vehicle and must comply with part 396.21(a). It must also include the date of the inspection, the name of the motor carrier, and information uniquely identifying the vehicle inspected. It must certify that the vehicle passed an inspection in accordance with section 396.17. A penalty is set forth under (h), which states that the failure to perform the annual inspection properly shall cause a motor carrier or the Intermodal equipment provider to be subject to the penalty provisions of 49 U.S.C. 521(b). Periodic main inspections (PMI) are required to be performed as noted in the preceding section. The annual periodic maintenance inspection requirement is a minimum requirement under the FMCSR. Motor carriers should not simply follow a minimum guideline. In order to operate safely, it is suggested that motor carriers set up a quarterly inspection interval at the very least. This would provide prophylactic procedures to look for parts that are about to become defective or expire. Tires can be replaced early. Axles and other similar connective devices can be checked more frequently to prevent their failure. The combination of daily vehicle inspections and periodic maintenance inspections is a safety system designed by the federal government and safety experts to assist in preventing accidents. The more often the inspections are done, the safer the tractor-trailer will be on the roads. When a vehicle has a high level of breakdowns, it becomes apparent that the vehicle should be taken out of service or perhaps discontinued as an in-service vehicle. Vehicles reach a point where repairs become too costly. At that time, the motor carrier should make the appropriate financial expenditures to purchase new equipment and completely discontinue and abandon use of the old equipment. IRS guidelines for depreciation allow for different schedules of depreciation. One of the points of bonus depreciation is to help companies improve the quality of their equipment while enjoying the benefits of accelerated depreciation. One of the reasons why maintenance regulations and inspections may not be followed deals with driver compensation. Drivers often ignore the need for maintenance and repair because they lose money while their truck is being repaired. Sometimes motor carriers will reprimand or terminate drivers if they report the need for safety repairs. Motor carriers should set up a different type of system of pay that is not based on a “per mile” or “on-time” delivery system. A driver should be paid their normal weekly rate while a vehicle is taken out of service and repaired. This would allow the driver to provide for his family and eliminate thousands, if not millions, of unnecessary and preventable tractor-trailer accidents. Profit-driven protocols of motor carriers create unsafe operating conditions. Failing to pay a driver while the driver is out of service creates a situation where the driver is forced to drive an unsafe vehicle simply to avoid losing pay. This unsafe system must change in order to have any improvement in the safe operation of tractor-trailers and large trucks. The compensation rate of the mechanics and maintenance inspectors is another reason why unsafe trucks continue to operate on the road. Motor carriers are capable of paying a higher level of compensation to their qualified maintenance inspectors. Their decision to pay the mechanic a lower rate like $15 an hour leads to the result that the employee may not perform the same level of work as a mechanic who is paid $35 an hour. The motor carrier is in charge of the timeframe that the mechanic is allowed to spend for each category of inspection and repair. In the event that the motor carrier decides to allow a longer period of time to the mechanic for each category of inspection, it will increase the cost of the inspection. Developing a system that sets an average period of time that is sufficient to perform a realistic inspection for each category of parts and equipment that must be inspected and that pays a fair labor rate to the mechanic or inspector will lead to a much more thorough inspection. Accidents will be prevented if appropriate inspections are conducted. In other words, rapid, cheap inspections lead to accidents. Careful and appropriate inspections lead to safety and less injuries and deaths. Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program The Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP), introduced in 1982, has been a great help, especially with inspection of trucks to determine whether they comply with the FMCSR. After the inception of this program, vehicle compliance has increased by a factor of ten. Despite this, the number of drivers and motor carriers that are receiving out-of-service citations for violating the FMCSR has not lessened. The program also has a major drawback. Because the FMCSA has limited funds and personnel, they are only able to inspect a small number of trucks on the roads. In order for the MCSAP to gain full advantage, the program has to be solidified both at the state and federal levels. Only then can a larger number of vehicles and drivers be inspected. When trucks are overloaded or improperly loaded with cargo, they become a great danger to all drivers using the nation’s highways. It would be highly beneficial to include size and weight restrictions in the MCSAP inspections in order to decrease the danger to persons using the federal and state highway systems. Truck Conspicuity and Lighting Display The regulations regarding truck lighting requirements have not been updated in a long time. These requirements come from the FMCSR. Many accidents occur in poor-visibility or dark conditions because motorists are unable to properly see large trucks and tractor-trailers. Many trucks have inadequate exterior lighting. Drivers who experience lower contrast sensitivity and inferior night vision are not able to identify trucks with low-level conspicuity and lighting. The FMCSR conspicuity requirements can be found at 49 CFR 393.9 et. seq. and provide regulations for lamps, reflective devices, and electrical wiring. Section 393.11 has a table that provides guidance to truck drivers and motor carriers on how to properly use lighting, lamps, and conspicuity tape. The problem with the rules is that truck drivers are not always properly trained on them and the motor carrier does not always understand them. These federal regulations should be strengthened to require motor carriers to spend the necessary monies to provide appropriate warnings to motorists in nighttime and poor-visibility conditions. This will lessen the amount of crashes and, in turn, reduce deaths and injuries to motorists in cars. Truck Tires Truck tires are a leading cause of accidents. Truck drivers and motor carriers must set up vehicle and tire inspection and repair safety programs and actually implement and follow them in order to have any useful prevention of accidents from worn tires. Rules need to be followed to make certain that tires are replaced, and that rebuilt and retreaded tires are not used by large trucks. Trucks need to have the best quality tires. It is recommended that regulations be set in place that determine the highest quality truck tires are embedded with the right details, such as carcass design and tread depth. If these rules are created, implemented, and followed, accidents will be prevented. Stopping distances of large trucks will be improved. The motor carrier will benefit by increased fuel efficiency and profits. Blown Out Tires Blown out tires left on a roadway are known as hazards. They create a significant hazard and danger to all persons using the nation’s highways, regardless of whether they are in a passenger car, a motorcycle, or other type of vehicle. They are more dangerous at nighttime due to lower visibility. Many truck drivers will have tires blow out and continue to drive the tractor-trailer down the roadway without picking up the remnants of the tires. Some of these tires are so large that the remnants create objects that are hazards in the roadway. At nighttime, motorists may not see the object until the last minute and then veer to avoid the object, which leads to collisions and accidents. At other times, the motorist will run over the large remnants of tires, which may cause their vehicle to veer and leave the roadway. It is thought that tire blowouts on roadways cause in excess of twenty-five thousand accidents per year and at least one hundred deaths every year in the United States and Canada. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has reported that tire blowout hazards are an overwhelming danger to motorists and create problematic situations that are unavoidable. Tire blowout of mechanical origin A tire blowout from a mechanical origin involves a defect with the tire or rim and the quality of the assembly of the tire onto the rim. These types of blowouts are especially dangerous and hazardous. An enormous energy burst arises from the blowout, which causes the tractor-trailer to lose control. The driver of the tractor-trailer may not anticipate the shifting of the tractor-trailer and all cargo. The tractor-trailer can easily veer into oncoming lanes of travel, shift into adjacent lanes of travel, and, at times, can cause the truck driver to drive off the traveled roadway where the truck driver is injured and/or killed. There are four events of mechanical origin that can cause a tire to blow out. They are:
  1. Overpressurization of the tire:
Probable causes:
  • Poorly balanced compressor weight
  • Weight gauge or valve issue
  • Incorrect mounting on the edge and voluntary overpressurization when seating the tire on the edge
  1. Zipper disaster:
When a tire has been underinflated for the load, it may become damaged internally. Driving on underinflated tires can lead to the zipper rupture, which is a very dangerous tire condition. Drivers should use extreme caution in handling a tire that has a zipper rupture. It is known that if tire inflation pressure becomes less than 80 percent of the fleet standard, that the driver should deflate the tire by removing the valve core and then removing the tire and wheel rim assembly from the vehicle. When this zipper effect occurs, it can result in prompt, critical air loss. The tire may have a forceful projectile-like eruption of pieces of the tire. These scenarios are extremely dangerous. Probable causes:
  • Deterioration of the envelope uncovering the plys or the belts of the tire to contagion via air or moisture
  • Mechanical effect that harms the tire's structure
  • Driving with underpressurized tires below 80 percent of the suggested weight
  • Driving with overpressurized tires
  • Overloading of the trailer, which causes extreme stress on the tires
  • Loss of mechanical properties because of hotness, pyrolysis, or thermo-oxidation
  • Significant remains wear and tire tread
  • Design flaw in the weave of the cord of the tire
  1. Tire demounting:
Tire demounting is another hazard that is a known problem in the industry. This occurs when the tire demounts from the edge of the rim with resulting air and gasses from inside the tire causing a severe eruption. Probable causes:
  • Mechanical effect with high force on the edge of the tire
  • Abnormal wear on the edge of the rim
  • Deformation of the edge or one of its parts after overheating
  • Improper mounting of the tire onto the rim
  • Incompatible parts of the edge with a multipiece edge
  • Dimensional or other incompatibilities of the edge and tire
  1. Tires in poor condition or with structural defects:
Tire wear conditions can create risky and hazardous driving conditions for the operator of a large truck or motor carrier. The tire, for whatever reason, develops a defect from wear and becomes hazardous. The tire may be too weak to withstand ordinary inflation pressure. One of the more common causes of tire wear is underinflation of the tire due to the driver failing to check tire pressures on a daily basis. When a tire is underinflated by as little as six pounds, it can cause a problem with the operation of the tractor-trailer on the roadway and lead to shifting of the vehicle back and forth across the highway. The driver can lose control, which can lead to the inability to maintain the appropriate lane of travel. The overinflated truck tire leads to a stiffer ride for the driver. When the truck comes across potholes and other known defects in the highway, the tractor-trailer may shift rapidly because of the stiff tire and overinflation. Daily inspection of tire pressures is absolutely necessary. Tread separation is another dangerous condition that may make the treads of the tire separate and rapidly cause the tire to explode or blow out. Many trucking companies utilize retread or recapped tires. The use of the recapped or retreaded tires is to save money by avoiding the purchase and cost of new tread tires. While legal, retread tires are known to be dangerous and often cause accidents. Safe motor carriers tend to purchase new tires and new equipment rather than use parts that are known to have defects. Obviously, retreads are less expensive than a new tire. Looking strictly from a safety perspective, it would be in the best interests of all motorists on the roadways to require motor carriers to use only new tires. Improper Inflation Tire industry studies have demonstrated that the improper underinflation of tires will make the tire much more vault vulnerable to wear and tear. On an eighteen-wheeler, the underinflation of one tire may cause damage to adjacent tires or tires that are in front or in back of the underinflated tire, since that tire is not carrying its necessary support for the entire frame. The underinflation of tires can lead to overheating and tire failure. Many accidents are related to tires that either deflate or inflate rapidly due to inflation issues. Almost all of these inflation issues are preventable by simply performing the daily tire inspection and pressure check. Appropriate inflation will create a longer life of tires. Truck drivers should be required to write down the tire pressures of each pretrip inspection in order to determine whether or not they have actually checked the tire pressures. High temperature in a tire can lead to significant tire blowouts and explosions. Tires are known to flex and change structure as they move down the road, causing pressure and force on the rubber, elastic, and steel internal strings of the manufactured tire. Tire wear is a known consequence of contact between the tire and the street. When a tire becomes hot and overexpands, a significant point of contact with the street occurs. This problem creates an uneven contact between the tire and the pavement. When the tire comes in contact with road defects, it can easily blow out and explode. Again, most of this can be avoided by simple pretrip daily inspections. Safety Measures Many manufacturers of automobiles now have automatic sensors built into the valves of the tires. The driver of the automobile can determine whether a tire is overinflated or underinflated by getting a dashboard warning that informs the driver to stop the vehicle to change the pressure of a particular tire. Regulations should be passed to require the mandatory use of these computerized sensors for all large trucks and tractor-trailers in order to prevent these highly frequent accidents from occurring. Assuming that the manufacturers of tractors for tractor-trailers will resist and fight spending additional monies on computerized safety centers for tire inflation, appropriate safety measures should be implemented to make sure the driver has a consistent awareness of the dangers of tires. The truck driver should be supplied with accurate tire gauges for tire pressure. The truck driver should not be penalized for stopping to replace tires or for checking the tires on a daily basis and notifying the motor carrier of the need for replacement. The motor carrier should create and implement a training system for the truck drivers to train them to be aware of recognized and known problems with trucks and to look for certain conditions, like the following:
  1. Alternate lug wear
  2. Both shoulder wear
  3. Brake skid
  4. Spotty wear
  5. Cupping and scalloping
  6. Diagonal wear
  7. Erosion wear
  8. Feather edge wear
  9. Heel/toe wear
  10. One-sided wear
  11. Rib punch
  12. Shoulder scrubbing
  13. Shoulder step
Truck drivers should be appropriately trained to look for all of the above issues that can occur with a tire. The truck drivers should learn how to take their hand and rub it across the tread and silo sidewalls to look for problems like spots that are not level, cuts, shoulder wear, swelling, sidewall weakness, tread depth, and other visible and noticeable problems that occur just prior to tire blowouts. The driver can then take the truck to the nearest maintenance and repair station to have the tire replaced. This will help avoid accidents. Pretrip inspection and the adherence to the FMCSR inspection protocols must be methodically following by truck drivers. The motor carrier should require truck drivers to complete the following inspection before each and every trip.
  • Inspect tires before the driver commences operation
  • Check tires for swelling, overinflation, underinflation, and similar problems.
  • Measure tread depth on a weekly basis and check for tires with known tread problems on a daily basis
  • Inspect for tire valve problems
  • Perform visual and hand inspections of both sides of the tires, meaning on the outside and then by using a board with wheels to lay on their back and inspect the inside portions of the tires
Formal rules of driver training on how to avoid an accident should be taught, trained, and implemented through appropriate classroom and video training. Comprehensive written testing should follow all training. Truck drivers should be taught the following skills to prevent accidents after a tire blowout:
  • Never hit the brake since it will cause the vehicle to pull forcefully in one direction or another
  • Learn to accelerate the motor vehicle in order to reduce side force
  • Use the appropriate ten o’clock and two o’clock grip to the steering wheel and maintain a strong, firm grip on the steering wheel to avoid abrupt lane changes.
  • Steer in the opposite direction of the pull of the tractor-trailer
  • Use driving simulation devices and programs to learn how to deal with the adverse force caused by the blowout
  • Get the vehicle in control and then slowly reduce speed and turn flashers on to warn other drivers of the hazard nearby
  • Pull the tractor-trailer over to a safe side road or onto the side of the roadway that is not traveled, stop, and then put safety triangles, cones, and flashers on to warn of the impending hazard and danger.
Antilock Brakes Trucking manufacturers and motor carriers should mandate that all trucks and tractor-trailers are equipped with antilock brakes. This will help the truck driver stop more quickly. The truck driver still needs to drive within a safe and appropriate speed to be able to stop the tractor-trailer quickly when loaded heavily. Antilock brakes are especially useful in wet road conditions. All trucks, semis, tractor-trailers, and passenger cars should be equipped with antilock brakes. Cab Safety Truck cabs are often not required to meet the same safety standards as passenger cars. They should have three-point belts or air bags installed. It is vital to ensure driver and passenger safety. Shifting of Weight During Transportation The shifting of cargo and weight is another significant problem with the transportation industry and tractor-trailers in general. One of the most important training rules for drivers is to follow the appropriate loading regulations so that shifting of cargo does not occur during transportation. An improperly loaded truck is generally defined as a truck that has been overloaded by weight or bulk. Many accidents are caused by the truck driver that fails to properly load and secure the cargo. A secondary problem arises when the truck driver fails to check that another independent contractor or customer has properly loaded the cargo into the trailer and secured it appropriately. There are many circumstances where cargo falls off flatbed trailers and causes death and injury to motorists. There are many other circumstances where tractor-trailers have a shift of weight and cargo during transport, causing the tractor-trailer to veer across lanes of travel or tip over. These circumstances are known and foreseeable. Thus, they are regulated under the FMCSR. Part 393.100 of the FMCSR addresses protection against shifting or falling cargo. The rules in that particular regulation are applicable to trucks, truck and pulled trailers. The requirements are stringent and state that each commercial motor vehicle must, when transporting cargo on public roads, be loaded and equipped, and the cargo secured, in accordance with this subpart to prevent the cargo from leaking, spilling, blowing, or falling from the motor vehicle. Cargo must be contained, immobilized, or secured in accordance with this subpart to prevent shifting upon or within the vehicle to such an extent that the vehicle’s stability or maneuverability is adversely affected. Part 393.102 provides for minimum performance criteria for cargo securement devices and systems. That section of the regulation addresses the breaking strength performance criteria. It also describes working-load limits. The regulation addresses performance criteria for devices to prevent vertical movement of loads that are not contained within the structure of the vehicle. The regulation provides that securement systems must provide a downward force equivalent to at least 20 percent of the weight of the article of the cargo if the article is not fully contained within the structure of the vehicle. The regulation addresses the means of securing articles of cargo, including immobilization, such that cargo cannot shift or tip to the extent that the vehicle’s instability or maneuverability is adversely affected. The regulation addresses transportation of cargo in a sided vehicle with side walls. The sided vehicle or trailer walls must be built of adequate strength, such that each article of cargo within the vehicle is in contact with or sufficiently close to the wall or other articles so that the load cannot shift or tip to the extent that the vehicle’s stability or maneuverability is adversely affected. The cargo must be secured in accordance with the applicable requirements of Parts 393.104 through Part 393.136 of the FMCSR. There is a prohibition on the use of damaged securement devices. The regulation requires that drivers and motor carriers address vehicle structures and anchor points, as well as materials for dunnage, chalks, cradles, shoring bars, or for blocking and bracing, and the materials must not have damage or defects that would compromise the effectiveness of the securement system. The regulations under the FMCSR use a table that is identified as part 393.108 on working and load limits. Truck drivers must be trained and supervised in order to be able to understand the specific chart limits for each load that they transport across the United States. They are complicated and difficult to understand. Failure to comprehend these charts and principles leads to thousands of accidents every year. When a load is not secured properly by the truck driver’s company, or is overweight, it causes the driver to have a limited or minimized ability to drive safely. The minute that the load shifts due to improper loading or overweight conditions, the likelihood of an accident occurring increases. According to the IIHS, loaded trailers require 20 percent to 40 percent more time to stop as compared to cars. This finding represents clear evidence that the heavier the truck is, the higher the chance of weight shifting during transit. Thus, the likelihood of an accident increases. The physics related to the mass, acceleration, and force of the tractor-trailer with a full load change as the weight or mass increases. The weight of an average empty tractor-trailer is approximately thirty thousand pounds while that of a full truck averages fifty thousand pounds. Many tractor-trailers with fully loaded cargo reach eighty thousand pounds. When a tractor-trailer is loaded with excessive cargo, it has an effect on the vehicle’s stability. This simultaneously creates problems for the tractor-trailer to maintain a single lane of travel. Shifting of weight will cause the tractor-trailer to shift lanes. The uneven balances created by the shifting cargo mass and weight can make the truck driver lose control of the tractor-trailer. The shifting may be different in higher wind conditions. All of these factors lead to danger to human life. The motor carrier itself may be responsible for the overloading of the truck and trailer. At times, it is the driver who has chosen to overload the tractor-trailer. In other circumstances, it may be a third-party shipper or loading company that may inappropriately overload the trailer. In all circumstances where an accident occurs, one or all of them may be responsible for the accident. Once an accident occurs due to improper loading or inappropriate securement of the cargo, the lawyer representing an injured party will be investigating to determine which person or entity was responsible for the improper loading or securement. This will take review and discovery of substantial records from all persons and entities involved. Defense lawyers will attempt to withhold as much information as possible. Many times, the trucking company will fail to give their lawyer the appropriate information and the lawyer may be unaware that the information exists. Appropriate deposition of witnesses leads to disclosure that the evidence still exists. Developing this information is difficult and time-consuming. It takes intense study of obscure documents with comparison of related transportation dock documents, such as bills of lading and contracts of delivery and pickup, to determine who was ultimately responsible for the improper loading. The FMCSA by itself cannot provide all of the appropriate enforcement that is necessary. Funds are limited. Self-regulation by the industry is required in order to make the transportation industry safer. Utilizing computer software programs and satellite tracking programs, combined with regular monitoring by the motor carrier, will improve safety. Improper Trailer Attachment The proper attachment of trailers to trucks, tractors, and other motor vehicles is a major reason for motor vehicle accidents. A research study that was conducted by a national insurance agency established that approximately 70 percent of trailer managers did not know there was an appropriate protocol on how to connect, hitch, and pull the trailers appropriately. The same study discovered that individuals who leased trailers or trucks were frequently not provided appropriate training about the attachment of trailers to the truck or tractor or how to connect the lighting and other braking equipment. In an alternate study in 2007, the NHTSA found that drivers towing trailers caused in excess of fifty-three thousand trailer accidents, which led to approximately twenty-one thousand injuries and four hundred fifty deaths. Whenever a trailer detaches from the vehicle towing it, the trailer becomes a deadly uncontrolled instrument of injury and destruction. Serious injuries and wrongful deaths occur due to improper training of drivers. Additional training, including comprehensive testing to determine if drivers really understand how to appropriately attach a trailer, is necessary to prevent further injuries. Trailers become detached and disconnected from the towing motor vehicle for a variety of reasons, some of which are below.
  • Mechanical failure
  • Operator behavior where a driver is traveling too fast for the weight and condition of the trailer with its load
  • Failure to provide appropriate warnings and lighting, including brake lights and turn signs that are not working on the trailer
  • Switch failures
  • Metallurgical or component failures from improper manufacture of the equipment
  • Failure to utilize an appropriate safety chain to secure the trailer to the truck or motor vehicle
  • Lack of proper maintenance and repair on the trailer and connective devices
  • Improper operation of the truck or motor vehicle while towing a trailer
  • Failure to train the driver/operator with appropriate safety skills
  • Failure to provide appropriate safety harnesses, chains, and connective equipment
  • Failure to have appropriate electrical and lighting connections with electrical shorts, burned-out lights, and other failures regarding provision of electricity to the lights
  • Fast and abrupt stopping of a heavy load without appropriate braking, causing the trailer to push the truck into stopped traffic
  • Inappropriate compliance with the FMCSR and applicable state and federal laws, ordinance, statutes, and regulations
  • Inappropriate compliance with weight limitations of the trailer or overloading

Many accidents are caused by improperly trained operators who do not understand how to appropriately attach the trailers and their connective devices. Many more accidents are caused by pulling overloaded trailers that have shifting cargo and weight. These improperly loaded trailers cause the tractors and trucks to veer from lane to lane, where they collide with other vehicles, causing injury and death. Almost all of these accidents can be prevented through proper supervision and training. Drivers towing trailers must understand the physics involved with pulling trailers. They must understand the load requirements of the FMCSR. Compliance with industry standards and the minimum standards set forth by the FMCSR will help alleviate thousands of accidents a year. It is recommended that the federal regulations be strengthened and monitored to a much more stringent set of standards. Monitoring of the trucking industry should be increased to a point where compliance is the norm.

Bradley A. Pistotnik © 2014