One idea to make roads safer: pay truckers by the hour

Most long-haul semi-truck drivers in the U.S. are not paid a salary.

They are paid per mile.

Some jobs pay bonuses, but most of a trucker’s “On Duty, Not Driving” time—loading, unloading, refueling, break time— is unpaid.

So, when truckers are waylaid by bad weather, stuck in traffic, or taking their mandatory breaks, they are basically unpaid.

Does pay-per-mile contribute to truck accidents?

Paying truckers per mile puts incentives on unsafe behaviors. If a driver paid per mile is put off-schedule by a sudden traffic jam, that driver may drive too long and skip breaks to make the miles.

A recent study from Australia, under review by the Federal Motor Carrier Administration, supports this theory. Researchers found that truck drivers who are paid by distance (in Australia, kilometers), or paid per trip, take fewer breaks—and take more drugs.

A tired trucker or trucker who has used drugs to stay awake trying to make up miles is a recipe for a serious truck accident.


Most drivers aren’t paid anything when they’re On Duty Not Driving time in their log book. Truck drivers should be paid by the hour – because they work by the hour.

The high rate of truck driver turnover

Experienced truckers are leaving the industry because they’re not making enough money for their time and effort. This is creating a safety issue: inexperienced drivers are more likely to be responsible for a fatal crash.

For long-haul carriers, it’s a revolving door: they had turnover rates of 99 percent in the first half of 2013.

Although it makes sense from a safety perspective, it’s unlikely that major trucking companies would be willing to consider the pay change.

Trucking carriers argue that customers are paying fleets by the mile. Therefore, fleet drivers should be paid by the mile, too.

“Disconnecting driver pay from how we get paid by our customers is a very frightening thought for this industry…”

The trucking industry would be committing “financial suicide,” with hourly pay, said Steve Gordon, COO of Gordon Trucking Inc.

Truck Drivers Ignoring Cell Phone Ban

It’s illegal. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a blanket ban on commercial drivers using a hand-held cellular phone or texting while driving.

It’s unsafe. Truck drivers are 23x more likely to crash if they are texting.

And a number of trucking carriers claim that texting and driving is grounds for a driver’s immediate dismissal.

So why are these truckers still texting and driving?

A number of truckers interviewed admit to regular cell  phone use behind the wheel

A number of truckers interviewed admit to regular cell phone use behind the wheel

It’s shocking to hear that truckers are so blatantly disregarding the law, their safety, and, most importantly, the safety of everyone else on the road.

The rule imposes sanctions for driver offenses, including civil penalties of up to $2,750 and driver disqualification for multiple offenses

Federal rules are strict, but it’s the state’s responsibility to enforce them.

Fewer than 16,000 tickets were issued to commercial drivers last year for using cell phones. There are about 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S.

States need to step up enforcement on those commercial drivers who are putting everyone on the road in danger.




Failure to act leads to truck crash deaths: it’s time to fix underride guards

About half of the deaths from semi-truck accidents involve an underride collision.

When a passenger vehicle is pushed under a semi truck, the top of the car is crushed and the passengers are injured and often killed by striking the underneath parts of a semi-truck or trailer.

Coluccio_Law - Crash tests demonstrate the need for new safety standards - IIHS

IIHS report, March 1, 2011: Crash tests demonstrate the need for new underride guard standards


Cars are designed to absorb the energy from the sides, not from the top.


Safety features –like airbags and seatbelts– are almost useless when the impact comes from the top down.



Underride guards, which are basically steel bars on the back of tractor-trailers, are supposed to prevent underride collisions by keeping the vehicle from sliding under the trailer.

Truck safety laws are out-of-date

1. Not all trucks have underride guards.

The U.S. government doesn’t require tractor-trailers to have front or side underride guards (for perspective, Europe has required underride guards on large trucks since 1994). Furthermore, many heavy trucks are exempt from the rear guard rule.

2. The guards we use are massively flawed.

The standards for rear underride guards are extremely out-of-date. Canadian regulations require a guard that withstands about twice as much force as required by the U.S. rule.

IIHS tests found that even the strongest guard left almost half of the back of the truck open to underride.

Ignoring the problem

IIHS has been working with trucking companies to test redesigned tractor-trailer guards. In 2011, IIHS shared the results of their studies, and asked NHTSA to require rear underride guards that are strong enough to remain in place during a crash. See Crash tests demonstrate the need for new underride guard standards.

Nothing was done.

Just recently, NHTSA agreed to look at the safety standards for underride guards after a public shaming by a family who petitioned the agency after a horrifying underride collision killed 2 girls.

If something could be done to make underride guards stronger, then why wasn’t it being done?

– Marianne Karth, crash survivor and truck safety advocate

Hopefully, NHTSA will finally address this serious truck safety issue.


The story of the Karth family’s campaign for a truck safety law: Family spurs government to action after tragic truck accident

Big mistake: Walmart blames victims in Tracy Morgan truck crash case

It’s a horrible—but common—story about a truck crash.

A tractor-trailer transporting goods for Walmart rear-ended a limo bus on a highway.

Law enforcement’s investigation shows that the truck driver had not slept for 24 hours prior to the crash, and that he failed to pay proper attention as he approached stopped traffic.

One passenger was killed and several others were seriously injured in the truck crash, including comedian Tracy Morgan. A lawsuit was filed for the victims’ damages.

This week, Walmart’s attorneys filed the defense response to the suit: blaming the victims, claiming that the severity of the injuries was due to passengers failures to wear safety belts.

Any attorney who’s worked on trucking and auto accident cases has seen this defense tactic. It’s a big mistake in this case.

The Walmart truck was going 65 mph …

If you have been lucky enough to avoid seeing a crash at this speed, you can’t imagine the damage that it does.

Here’s how this works in a trucking case:

1. Walmart has to prove that a safety belt would have prevented the injuries and death, which would put some fault on the victims.

2. To do that, Walmart has to hire an expert truck accident reconstructionist.

3. The accident reconstructionist would have to defy common sense and physics, and prove that a belt can save you when an 80,000 truck rear-ends you at 65 mph.

… Which is 20 mph over the speed limit

Walmart’s defense team must also show that the driver’s speed was not a factor.

Their defense states the injuries and death were totally or in part caused by the victims themselves: therefore, it doesn’t matter that the driver is speeding.

Aside from the truck’s speed, it was a rear-end collision on a highway: that usually only happens when a driver falls asleep.

We can see you, Walmart.

Walmart is fighting an uphill battle.

Instead of doing the right thing, accepting responsibility for the actions of its truck driver  and settling this case, Walmart attorneys are going to drag the injured victims and the family of the deceased through a long, painful court battle.

And they’re doing it publicly.

Does Walmart think we can’t see them?

Or do they just not care?



Trucking industry fights to hide safety record from public

It’s rare that hiding information helps to solve a problem.

This is not an exception.

The Safer Trucks and Buses Act, a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Barletta, would remove the trucking carrier safety rankings from public view.

Anyone can check a carrier’s safety record on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website.

Why hide truck safety records?

The proposed law would remove access to the safety scores – rendering them inaccessible and useless.

Proponents argue that the scoring system is flawed. The American Trucking Association says that “data and methodology problems plague the system” so the scores are inaccurate.

Smaller carriers in particular take issue with the safety rankings. One safety violation has a bigger effect on their CSA scores, since the BASIC (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories) categories are graded on a curve.

That means the motor carriers with the worst safety records are still at the bottom, even if they improve.

I’m not sure that’s really a problem, but even if the CSA’s safety scores are not perfect, removing scores from public safety solves nothing, and limits the public access to potentially important information.

If the way the Department of Transportation measures trucking carrier safety is not an accurate reflection of the carrier’s record of road safety, then propose a concrete way to fix it.

Less transparency is not the answer.

Not enough truck drivers, and too many accidents: what’s the solution? (Hint: it’s hire vets)

Long hours on the road. Stressful situations. Days away from home. Trucking can be a tough job. It’s not for everyone.

30,000 tractor-trailer drivers are needed across the U.S. right now, the American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates.

Another 100,000 will be needed every year for the next decade. Economic growth leads to more goods being shipped on highways, and more pressure being placed on trucking companies and their drivers to deliver.

The ATA blames the shortage on new hours-of-service rules. Some carriers evidently ignore hours-of-service rules and leave fatigued drivers on the road. Others have worked around the shortage by keeping on dangerous drivers with a long list of safety violations.

The result? An 18% increase injuries and fatalities from truck accidents, in the last few years alone.

Looking to veterans

A strong work ethic and problem-solving under pressure. Technological savvy. Respect for policies and the importance of procedures. Physical fitness.

Is there any other group more prepared for the demands of truck driving than veterans?

The Military Skills Waiver program is set up to help get returning veterans who have safely operated military vehicles a job in commercial truck driving. Recently returned vets can bypass some of the commercial driver’s license application process and the fees.

It’s also easier for vets with limb impairment to get a CDL to drive interstate trucks by passing a Skill Performance Evaluation.

The trucking industry needs to stop complaining, and start hiring.


A plan to catch chameleons

Chameleon carriers are trucking companies that shut down to hide from penalties after multiple safety violations or accidents—and then re-open under a new name.

For more, see Chasing the Chameleon.

CNBC Investigations: Wiping clean the safety records of trucking companies

CNBC Investigations: Wiping clean the safety records of trucking companies

These carriers run some of the most dangerous trucks on the road: 18% of suspected chameleon carriers were in serious truck crashes, according to the GAO.

That’s three times as many crashes as other carriers.

How does this happen?

In the CNBC report, Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said that only about 2% of all new DOT applicants are checked to see if they’re chameleon carriers.

That’s pretty inspiring for trucking companies looking to avoid safety regulations and fines.

Closing the loophole

The FMCSA is updating the vetting methods to spot chameleon carriers when they apply for a new DOT number.

The new plan to catch chameleon carriers is based on an application algorithm. When a new trucking company applies for a DOT number, their address, phone number, and listed officers will be automatically checked against closed carriers who have been:

–       Issued multiple fines;

–       Involved in fatal crashes;

–       Declared bankruptcy;

–       Or declared unsafe by FMCSA.

This process is in beta testing now and scheduled to go into effect in 2015.

Even if it is not fully effective at catching chameleon carriers, it’s better than our current systems: waiting until they cause fatal crashes.

Chasing the chameleon

The term “chameleon” refers to one that is subject to quick or frequent change, especially in appearance.

Chameleons change in order to hide.

Hiding from safety

In the trucking industry, The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) use a DOT number to identify every company that operates semi-trucks.

Theses DOT numbers are important: they track drivers’ records, vehicle maintenance and accidents. It’s how we identify bad drivers and irresponsible trucking carriers, in an effort to make our public roads safer.

But irresponsible trucking companies have found a loophole. They register under a new name – and get a new DOT number – to skirt liability or penalties after numerous crashes or safety violations.

A company that registers under a new name is known as a “chameleon carrier”.

1,136 new applicants were suspected of being “chameleon carriers”, according to the Government Accountability Office’s most recent study.

While these “chameleon carriers” should be shut down, they must first be caught.

Sadly, they are almost always caught only after a serious injury or death has been caused by another fatal truck crash.




Senate tries to weaken truck safety rules – right before semi hits Tracy Morgan

Just a few days prior to Tracy Morgan’s tragic accident, the U.S. Senate had moved to weaken federal hours-of-service rules aimed at preventing trucker fatigue.

Mr. Morgan was seriously injured, and another comedian was killed, after their vehicle was struck by a semi. The truck driver was charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. The criminal complaint states that the driver had operated the tractor-trailer truck “without having slept for a period in excess of 24 hours resulting in a motor vehicle accident”.

Prior to the crash, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to suspend the 2013 requirement that truck drivers rest for at least 34 consecutive hours between work-weeks.

How does this make our roads safer…?

This amendment, attached to the transportation bill, would actually make our highways less safe from fatigued truck drivers.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, fatigue is a leading factor in large truck crashes.

The current hours-of-service rule is as follows:

  • Limits the maximum average work-week for truck drivers to 70 hours;
  • Allows truck drivers who reach the maximum 70 hours of driving within a week to resume if they rest for 34 consecutive hours, including at least two nights when their body clock demands sleep the most – from 1-5 a.m., and;
  • Requires truck drivers to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift.

These rules, passed just last year, were already insufficient to protect fatigued truck drivers and everyone around them on our highways.

It’s appalling and unacceptable that legislators are now already trying to pull back further from these rules, which have failed to protect the public using our highways.

The transportation bill with this change was stalled – a temporary bill to fund minimal highway repairs has been passed in it’s place – but this is not the end of the fight for trucking safety.

Celebrity injured in truck crash shows why we need trucker sleep laws

Many truck drivers operate on our highways after long hours behind the wheel without proper rest and sleep.

This fact came to the forefront when the popular comedian, Tracy Morgan, was seriously injured in a crash with an 18-wheel tractor-trailer.

Walmart employed the driver of the tractor-trailer. It was reported that he had been awake for more than 24 consecutive hours.

The truck driver failed to notice slow moving traffic ahead of him. His truck struck the vehicle that Tracy Morgan was riding in with such force that it killed one of the passengers, comedian James McNair, and seriously injured Mr. Morgan and others.

This tragic accident brings to light a problem that has caused too many injuries and deaths – namely, fatigued truck drivers operating huge tractor-trailers and endangering everyone on the road.

Trucking companies must be held accountable in providing safe truck drivers on our public highways.

The consequences of not doing so are far too high.