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Can Commercial Vehicle Inspections Prevent Big Truck Accidents?

Inspections Find Continuing Problems that Can Lead to Big Truck Accidents

Accidents involving large commercial vehicles like trucks and buses can occur for various reasons. However, the most common causes are driver failure or mechanical failure. Federal and state laws require commercial carriers like trucking companies and bus lines to monitor their drivers and regularly inspect and maintain their vehicles. However, statistics continue to show troublingly high rates of problems with both. Can inspections by government agencies and independent inspectors help to reduce the rate of driver and/or mechanical failures and thereby reduce the number of injury or fatality-causing big truck accidents?

What Are the Failure Rates in Comprehensive Inspections?

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) is an independent, non-profit organization made up of several thousand government safety officials and trucking industry members in North America dedicated to reducing the number of commercial vehicle accidents and preventing injuries and deaths. Once per year, CVSA conducts its “International Roadcheck” program of high-volume commercial vehicle inspections over a short period — their findings are both illuminating and disturbing. For example, their 2021 program included a three-day effort in the United States and Canada involving inspections of more than 40,000 vehicles, of which more than 6,700 — fully 1 in every 6 inspections — resulted in an “out of service” (OOS) violation, meaning a problem serious enough that the vehicle or driver needed to be placed out of service.

And these were just the overall inspection numbers — different types of inspections were conducted, and the most comprehensive inspections resulted in even higher rates of OOS violations. The numbers for these “Level I” inspections showed:

  • Number of U.S. Inspections: 19,786
  • U.S. OOS Violations for Vehicles: 4,136 (20.9%)
  • U.S. OOS Violations for Drivers: 1,083 (5.5%)
  • Number of Canada Inspections: 3,349
  • Canada OOS Violations for Vehicles: 912 (27.2%)
  • Canada OOS Violations for Drivers: 117 (3.5%)

That’s an overall failure rate of roughly one-quarter of all commercial vehicles and about 1 in 20 drivers.

Do Other Statistics Show Similar Numbers of Inspection Failures?

The short answer is “yes.” The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the primary regulatory agency of the U.S. federal government for commercial vehicle operation and safety. They maintain annual statistics for commercial vehicle crashes, injuries, fatalities, motor carrier investigations, and vehicle and driver inspections. Their most recently published statistics for 2019, 2020, and the first part of 2021 show inspection result numbers very much like those found by CVSA:

  • 2019 Truck OOS Violation Rate: 21.3%
  • 2019 Truck Driver OOS Violation Rate: 5.0%
  • 2020 Truck OOS Violation Rate: 21.3%
  • 2020 Truck Driver OOS Violation Rate: 5.2%
  • 2021 Truck OOS Violation Rate: 21.7%
  • 2021 Truck Driver OOS Violation Rate: 5.8%

The FMCSA statistics are based upon millions of annual inspections and show a steady — if not slightly growing — number of out-of-service violations over the three years.

What Are the Inspections Looking At?

Federal and state safety agencies may look at slightly different driver and vehicle criteria categories. However, many points of inspection are common. The CVSA “Level I” inspection of both driver and vehicle, for example, looks at the following:

Driver Inspection

  • Commercial Driver’s License and Status
  • Medical Certificate
  • Drug and Alcohol
  • Hours of Service Records

Vehicle Inspection

  • Lighting Systems
  • Brake Systems
  • Trailer Couple Devices
  • Steering and Suspension
  • Tires, Wheels, Hubs, and Rims
  • Fuel and Exhaust Systems
  • Proper Cargo Securement

Again, an out-of-service (OOS) violation is serious enough for the vehicle and/or driver to be ordered OOS and taken off the road. A commercial carrier company that accumulates too many or too serious violations may receive an OOS order to cease operations until problems are satisfactorily resolved.

What Are Implications for Personal Injury Claims and Lawsuits from Big Truck Accidents?

The most troubling and urgent implications of these statistics are the rates of significant violations for commercial vehicles and drivers and the serious accidents they can cause. FMCSA statistics for 2019 showed nearly 165,000 crashes involving large trucks, resulting in more than 80,000 injuries and 5,066 fatalities. That’s about 14% of traffic fatalities for 2019, despite big trucks only accounting for a little over 4% of all vehicles on the highway — large trucks and other commercial vehicles have significantly higher rates of involvement in traffic crashes with fatalities and major injuries.

Commercial carriers must adequately inspect and maintain their vehicles, monitor their drivers, and deal with problems. When failure to do so results in big truck accidents causing serious injuries and deaths, proving such failures is crucial to establishing legal liability on the part of trucking companies. Personal injury claims and lawsuits stemming from big truck accidents tend to be complex and expensive to bring to a successful resolution. There are often multiple defendants- even more than just driver and employer- and multiple insurance companies and defense counsels involved. Big truck accidents are often complicated events to understand and prove. Victims and families in these instances need to seek experienced legal counsel who is familiar with handling these complex cases and who have the skills and resources to successfully recover proper compensation for their clients.

View this video from a primary commercial carrier briefing their drivers on how to prepare for an annual CVSA road inspection program:

Sacramento Truck Accident Lawyer

Hello, my name is Ed Smith, and I’m a Sacramento Truck Accident Lawyer. While inspection efforts may detect dangerous trucks and dangerous truck drivers and get some of them off the road, troubling statistics like those above seem to show that trucking companies aren’t responding to these inspections in ways that actually reduce the number of safety violations over time. When failure to deal with known problems with individual vehicles and drivers or failures in the monitoring and maintenance efforts expected to deal with safety issues result in big truck accidents causing severe injuries or deaths, it is crucial to seek experienced legal advice for help. If you or a family member was seriously injured due to an accident involving a large truck or another commercial vehicle, please contact us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

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