FMCSA Proposes New Rule: Impact in New York

The federal agency is attempting to increase the safety of the nation's roadways by easing the ability to remove "unfit" commercial trucks from operation.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has proposed a new rule to increase the safety of the nation’s roadways. If passed, it would update the agency’s safety fitness rating system to include data from on-road safety inspections in combination with trucking company investigations and accident history to determine the trucking company’s overall safety. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx states that the safety of the nation’s roadways is a top priority, and this new method would allow for more timely assessments.

Details of the Proposal

The proposal differs from the FMCSA’s current practices, which allow for the completion of 15,000 investigations per year. Without an official investigation, a trucking company cannot be suspended. The new system would allow for the removal of unsafe trucking companies based on highway inspections without requiring an official audit. The official audit process can last several days, but the agency is estimating the new, more efficient process will result in the completion of 75,000 investigations per month.

The increased ability to reprimand trucking companies is not the only change. The rating system would also be updated. The current system uses a three-tier ranking where vehicles are deemed satisfactory, conditional, or unsatisfactory. The new system would replace the tiers with a single determination of "unfit." Vehicles that are found "unfit" would be required to improve or cease operations. Fitness would be based on an analysis of on-road safety data, investigative results, or a combination of both.

The following are taken into consideration when compiling on-road safety data:

  • Unsafe driving practices. This can include improper lane changes, inattention, or speeding.
  • Hours-of-service (HOS) violations. The number of hours truck drivers are operating their vehicles will also be reviewed.
  • Controlled substance violations. The operation of a commercial truck while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other illegal substances.
  • Vehicle maintenance. This category includes both the maintenance of the vehicle and the load the vehicle is carrying. Failure to properly secure the load could qualify as a violation.
  • Crash indicators. A history of high crash involvement can also result in a violation.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal discussed the proposal, noting trucking company advocates recognize the need to update the system but are concerned about the accuracy of the agency’s safety management data. In response, the FMCSA states that analysis of trucking companies flagged through the use of on-road safety data shows those flagged have a crash rate "of almost four times the national average."

Impact in New York

Because the FMCSA is a national agency, the proposal would have an impact on New York, as well as all other states, if adopted.

Despite the proposed changes, commercial trucks can still pose a real danger on our roads. Accidents involving heavy trucks can occur, (1) when the trucks are operated in an unsafe manner, (2) when the drivers are not properly trained or rested, or (3) when the trucks are not properly maintained or repaired. While the new proposal seeks to make the roads safer, there will undoubtedly still be accidents and litigation over the new, higher standards.

Those who are injured in an accident are wise to seek the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney. A legal professional can advocate for your rights, working to better ensure you receive the legal remedies to which you are entitled.