The BASICS of Serious Commercial Truck Crashes

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To identify the negligent actions by commercial trucking companies and their drivers that cause catastrophic truck crashes, the answer is pretty basic.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is the federal agency that oversees and regulates commercial trucking.  Founded 20 years ago, its stated mission is to reduce fatal truck accidents as well as those involving commercial buses.

One way it carries out this mission is to measure the safety of trucking companies and their drivers, and step in when they are deemed dangerous.

How does the federal government deem trucking companies are dangerous? It monitors data from roadside truck inspections, crash reports and other related 18-wheeler investigations. This is known as the Safety Measurement System, and the FMCSA updates it monthly.

This SMS compiles the data and organizes the information into seven different categories, all known causes of serious tractor-trailer accidents.  These truck safety indicators are called Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, or BASICs for short.

By tracking these common causes of truck crashes, the FMCSA identifies dangerous trucking companies and dangerous truck drivers. Based on the data, carriers are given a percentile ranking for each BASIC category, with 0 being the safest percentile and 100 being the worst.

When there are safety concerns, the FMCSA undertakes a compliance review.  These reviews may be comprehensive – examining all seven safety categories – or targeting just one category. The companies then are rated one of three ways:

  • Satisfactory – sufficiently compliant
  • Conditional – company is put on probation and allowed to operate but must improve its safety measures
  • Unsatisfactory – serious violations were found and company cannot operate until they are fixed

The first BASIC category is the crash history of trucking companies and their drivers. Reviewed are the frequency of such accidents and their severity.

Unsafe Truck Driving Behavior

Another category is repeated violations for unsafe, negligent trucker driving.  These include:

  • Truck driver texting while driving
  • Trucker speeding
  • Reckless driving
  • Inattentive trucker

These histories of unsafe driving include tickets given to truckers as well as verbal warnings from law enforcement.

Truckers, fatigued from driving too many hours in a row without stopping, can fall asleep behind the wheel and cause catastrophic crashes.  That’s why the federal Hours of Service rules were adopted.  They regulate how many hours a day and week truckers can drive, and mandate rests.

The BASIC reviews include any violations to these rules by truckers and their employers. Truckers are supposed to record their hours in electronic recording devices so they can’t be fudged.

Roadside inspectors check to see if commercial truck drivers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or even have them in their possession.  Any violations for drinking and driving or drugged driving are flagged in the BASIC report.

Truck Maintenance Issues Leading to Crashes

Disreputable fleet owners and irresponsible truckers may ignore known maintenance problems or routine maintenance schedules to avoid slowdowns and financial costs. So a special focus is given to roadside inspections that find:

  • Defective brakes
  • Worn tires
  • Broken lights

Hauling hazardous materials requires special care.  FMCSA looks for companies that have had a history of trucks leaking dangerous cargo, lack required documentation, or fail to display appropriate hazmat signs on their rigs.

And the remaining BASIC category deals with truck driver qualifications. Inspectors check to make sure truckers have the appropriate commercial driver’s license and the mandated medical certificate. Truckers must undergo and pass a physical exam from a Department of Transportation certified physician. This helps prevent truckers with dangerous medical conditions – such as sleep apnea – from hitting the road and putting other drivers at risk.

While the BASIC categories are thorough, they can’t always protect the public from negligent truck drivers or fleet operators.  The fact that 5,000 people died in accidents involving commercial trucks last year alone is an unfortunate reminder.

If you were seriously hurt or you lost a loved one in a crash with a tractor-trailer, a trucking accident lawyer can represent your legal rights to just compensation for your losses.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles November 24, 2020

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