There’s a lot wrong with the trucking industry. Cutting corners is far too frequent. But what can you do to address that?
The trucking industry’s been in a pretty rough place for the past several years. Already severely overworked and at-risk for a wide range of health problems (truck driving is one of the unhealthiest jobs in America), truckers are in shorter and shorter supply. Due to tough economic conditions, trucking companies are putting even more pressure on these drivers, leading them to cut corners and take risks they ordinarily wouldn’t.
And all of this is in the face of falling pay and higher driving costs.
How did we get here? How did we arrive at the point where negligence and violation of federal rules is a regular thing? Why are so many trucking companies so cavalier about road safety?
There’s no one answer to that - but part of it can be traced back, ironically, to federal hours-of-service rules released in 2013. These rules, meant to make working conditions better for employees, were a swift kick in the gut for the trucking industry.
“The key provision was a limit to the use of a 34-hour restart,” writes Business Insider’s Mamta Badkar and Rob Wile. “Drivers have a 70-hour-a-week cap on how much time they can be on the road. Previously, they'd been able to artificially reset that cap to zero if they took 34 consecutive hours off. Now, many are unable to do so. As a result, according to a survey from the American Transportation Research Institute, more than 80% of motor carriers have experienced a productivity loss, with nearly half saying that they require more drivers to haul the same amount of freight.”
As a result of these changes, many smaller trucking firms have been unable to continue operations, and their drivers must either leave the profession entirely or move to a larger company, likely one with lower wages. And those few small operators that do hold on have to cut corners in order to survive. A skipped maintenance check here, some low-quality parts there...no harm, no foul, right?
One of the big issues with trucking companies is that they often pressure drivers to violate compliance rules, working hours far longer than what should be legally allowed. One driver, Jeff, recounts how the owner of a trucking company had him make two five-and-a-half hour drives in the same day - something which legally, he wasn’t allowed to do.
“When you’re non-compliant as a driver, you run the risk of fatigue and the risk of hurting other people,” Jeff says to Business Insider. “And as a driver, it’s my license on the line. I was also asked by multiple trucking companies to falsify my logs.”
“I consider myself a safety-oriented driver,” he continues. “I have found that’s a bad thing.”
Small wonder so many experienced drivers are getting disillusioned with the industry, and retiring. And small wonder today’s drivers have nowhere near the level of competence or training as drivers did years ago. Just look at what’s been happening in Canada recently, where a professional driver and road-tester regularly has inexperienced, borderline-incompetent drivers show up for their road test.
“You can tell within the first five minutes,” he says, speaking to Truck News. “You can tell from the way they open the hood, if they’re opening it from the side. There are only so many engine manufacturers out there. If they can’t find the dipstick, you know there’s a problem right off the bat.”
The difference is that Canada has systems designed to weed out such drivers. It’s much easier for these people to fly under the radar here. That’s because while other countries work towards better road safety and more extensive protections for both drivers and citizens, trucking companies in the States lag far behind. One might even go so far as to say that the firms which cut costs would rather accept the risk of lawsuits in lieu of actually trying to improve things.
Long story short, trucking companies are horrendously negligent, truckers are getting more inexperienced, and corners are being cut left and right. These cut corners and poor decisions are putting far more than your safety at risk. They’re a threat to your very life.
That may change in the near future. As the Internet of Things continues its march forward, self-driving rigs could very soon take to the roads. While that may not completely solve the driver shortage, it will certainly go a long way towards improving things for drivers - and making the roads a bit safer.
Of course, autonomous trucks come with their own unique set of challenges and threats...but that’s a bridge our society will have to cross when it reaches it.
In the meantime, what can you do about short-term negligence in trucking? How can you protect yourself, and inspire trucking companies to be better? The answer is somewhat unfortunate:
For the moment, not much. Drive defensively. Pay careful attention to long-haul trucks while you’re on the road. And in the event that you’re injured in an accident involving one of these trucks, it’s advisable to contact an injury lawyer.
Guest Post by Ryan Bormaster
Ryan B. Bormaster is the managing attorney at Bormaster Law. The law firm practices in a number of areas but specializes in 18 Wheeler Accidents, Accidents with Commercial Vehicles such as Work Trucks and Catastrophic Injuries of all kinds. They are trial lawyers who will work hard to try to solve your problem out of the Courtroom but who will proudly stand by your side in the Courtroom if justice so requires.