Trucking Companies Push Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Determining Cause in Big Rig Semi Crashes: But the Question of Cause Isn’t That Easy to Answer in a Truck Crash


Trucking Companies Push Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Determining Cause in Big Rig Semi Crashes: But the Question of Cause Isn’t That Easy to Answer in a Truck Crash

The trucking industry is still fighting hard against increased federal safety regulations, in particular the nation-wide implementation of CSA (Compliance Safety Accountability system).  This month, one of the big controversies stems from how truck crashes – those big rig semi accidents that all too often involve several deaths on our roadways – are tallied with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Compliance, Safety, Accountability - csa.fmcsa.dot.gov

The American Trucking Association is asking FMCSA to delve into its numbers and split things up, so that the causes of the truck accidents are categorized.  The ATA wants the federal agency to cull through semi tractor trailer accident reports, and separate the big rig crashes that show (in their words, “where it was plainly evident”) that the trucking company was not at fault for the crash.

In their request, the American Trucking Association pointed to three accidents where:

  1. the driver of a stolen car drove over a median;
  2. a drunk driver rear-ended a gasoline tanker truck; and
  3. the pursuit of a stolen vehicle ended in a crash involving a semi truck.

From the ATA:

“Just last month, police gave chase to a driver of a stolen car who crossed a grassy median and struck a truck head-on,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “It is clearly inappropriate for FMCSA to use these types of crashes to prioritize trucking companies for future government intervention, especially when responsibility for the crash is so obvious.  Including these types of crashes in the calculation of carriers’ CSA scores, paints an inappropriate picture for shippers and others that these companies are somehow unsafe,” he said.

Probable Cause Isn’t That Easy To Determine

Noted in the ATA press release was the report of a crash reconstructionist who testified before the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee of FMCSA and explained that it is not that easy to figure out the cause of a commercial truck accident; according to the crash reconstructionist, FMCSA could not determine fault in many instances based solely on information from police accident reports.

While it is understandable that trucking companies do not want accidents for which their trucks and their drivers are not legally responsible to be included in federal statistics kept on trucking accidents, it is also valid for the FMCSA to be concerned over the determination of cause in a trucking accident.

The cause of an accident, particularly a huge traffic accident involving a large big rig, semi, or tractor trailer truck, can be a very complicated study involving scientific and forensic experts in a variety of fields.   Often, those at the scene of the crash are simply unable to decide what the cause – or causes – of the accident are, because they don’t have the education, training, or time needed to fully analyze the situation.

For example, skid marks.  Mathematical analysis of all skid marks at the scene must be done and thereafter evaluated.  Things to be considered here include the amount of force (friction) on the tires of the truck as well as all other vehicles involved in the crash.

Coupled with that are considerations of the road conditions at the time – not only the type of road (asphalt, dirt, etc.) but any hazards that existed at the time (debris, trash, ice, snow, etc.).  Weights of the vehicles must be determined, not only of the fully-loaded cargo rig, but the other vehicles in the crash.

Additionally, there will analysis of what the drivers were doing at the time, as well as what else was going on at the scene.  At first glance, for example, a truck being rear-ended may look to be an easy call: the driver who crashed into the back of the truck is at fault.  However, more analysis may reveal things like road hazards like ice that contributed to the crash; maybe the truck’s brake lights malfunctioned or were covered by mud; perhaps the car was slammed into the rig by a third vehicle.

Probable cause of an accident is a major fact issue in many trucking accidents. FMCSA is taking its time in addressing the cause issues brought up by ATA for a reason.

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