Dangerous and Unsafe Trucks

Commercial trucks are required by federal law to meet certain safety standards. When they do not, they can be pulled out of service by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Random inspections of commercial vehicles are authorized per 49 CFR § 396.17 by certain entities – including the Florida Highway Patrol – to ensure truck safety. In one recent year, the FHP conducted 110,000 commercial vehicle inspections, and placed 19,000 vehicles and drivers out-of-service for critical safety violations. That’s more than 17 percent, or nearly one-fifth.

The national rate for inspected vehicles taken out-of-service is 24 percent.

The Ansara Law Firm, our truck accident attorneys in Fort Lauderdale know commercial trucks will not pass inspection if they have deficiencies or defects pertaining to one of the following critical systems:

  • Brake Systems (missing or broken mechanical components, audible air leaks, oil saturation, mismatched units, cracks or damages).
  • Coupling Devices (fifth wheel issues, pintle hook problems, drawbar/towbar eye damage, drawbar/towbar tongue problems, safety device issues, saddle-mount cracks or breaks).
  • Exhaust Systems (leaks, displacement resulting in burning, charring or damage of electrical wiring or any other combustible part).
  • Fuel System (visible leaks, filler cap missing, tank not securely attached).
  • Lighting Devices (all must be operable).
  • Safe Loading (protection against shifting cargo, securement of all devices).
  • Steering Mechanism (cracks, welded repairs, missing bolts, loose mounts).
  • Frame (cracked, broken, loose or sagging frame or any missing loose or missing fasteners).
  • Tires (poor or damaged tread, weight limits exceeded, noticeable leaks).
  • Wheels and Rims (cracked, broken, loose or missing pieces).
  • Windshield glazing (cracks or other damages).
  • Windshield wipers (inoperative or ineffective).

Each of these issues puts all of those who share the road in peril of injury or death due to a truck accident. The FMCSA notes that trucks exceeding 10,000 pounds account for 7 percent of vehicle miles traveled, and yet account for 13 percent of all traffic fatalities – most often involving a truck and another vehicle, and resulting in injury or death to passenger vehicle occupants.

The American Trucking Association reports there are more than 3 million commercial truck drivers in the U.S. and more than 500,000 carriers. Although most drivers and trucking companies do strive for safety, the rest of us are imperiled when trucking companies:

  • Allow poorly-maintained vehicles to cause dangerous road conditions
  • Use drivers who are unqualified
  • Create unrealistic schedules

Vehicle maintenance has to be a top priority because even the best driver will be nearly powerless to limit the damage if the brakes fail or a tire blows out.

If a motor vehicle is taken “out of service” by an authorized agent of FMCSA, no motor carrier company is allowed to permit any driver to operate the vehicle until all repairs required on the notice have been completed to satisfaction. Carriers are also prohibited from removing the “out of service” sticker until required repairs have been completed.

Per 49 CFR §369.9, the motor carrier or equipment provider has 15 days post-inspection to certify that all noted violations have been corrected and must retain a copy of those correction reports for at least one year. The vehicle also must undergo an additional inspection before it can be released back into active service.

Empowering Drivers, Public to Report Unsafe Trucks

Recognizing that federal agents aren’t going to be able to locate and identify every potential hazard involving commercial vehicles, FMCSA empowers both truck drivers and members of the public to take action on this issue.

With regard to truck drivers, there is the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), codified in 49 CFR § 31105. This statute allows drivers the right to refuse to drive unsafe equipment with impunity. It’s illegal for a company to discipline, discharge or discriminate against an employee for making a vehicle safety complaint or for refusing to operate a vehicle that is unsafe.

Courts have largely upheld the drivers’ right to refuse operation of unsafe equipment, assuming two important conditions are met:

  1. Refusal must be based on reasonable apprehension that operation of the truck is going to present a genuine hazard to the safety of the driver or the public. That means even if it turns out later the truck was safe, the action is still protected so long as the belief was reasonable.
  2. The driver has asked the carrier/employer to correct the problem.

Also, protection may be triggered if operation of the vehicle would result in a violation of the Department of Transportation’s regulations. Even then, driver must make the company aware of the problem and offer the chance to fix it.

As for members of the public, FMCSA encourages people to report safety violations of commercial trucks to the Department of Transportation.

  • Call 1-888-DOT-SAFT (368-7238) from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday – Friday EST
  • Submit an online complaint via the FMCSA website
  • Call 911 in the event of an imminent or ongoing emergency safety issue

If you are injured in a truck accident caused by an unsafe truck or dangerous equipment, call us to learn more about how we can help protect your rights.

Contact the South Florida truck injury lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm, by calling (954) 761-4011 or toll-free at (888) ANSARA-8.