The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) works tirelessly to improve the safety of commercial motor vehicles (CMV) and keep our highways and roads safe. In the FMCSA’s constant evaluation of the trucking industry, the Administration notes and addresses the most serious hazards it sees. Among those include the following:

  • Distracted driving
  • Use of alcohol and controlled substances
  • Driver fatigue

Distracted Driving

A motorist driving a car while not paying attention is extremely dangerous for the driver and everyone else on the road. Imagine that danger combined with 15 to 30 tons of semi truck.

While many things can take a driver’s attention away from the road, the FMCSA has specifically targeted texting while driving CMVs. FMCSA research has shown that drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road an average of 4.6 seconds each time they look at their phone. The FMCSA asserts that drivers who text are 20 times more likely to be in a truck accident than drivers that pay attention to the road.

Other electronic devices besides cell phones also lead to distracted driving. The affordability and portability of electronics such as laptops and DVD players has made it feasible for CMV drivers to watch television or movies while driving.

Use of Alcohol and Controlled Substances

Unfortunately some CMV drivers drink alcohol or take controlled substances while driving. Sometimes stimulants are used to stay awake to meet delivery or pick up deadlines. Obviously, the use of such substances impairs judgment and driving ability.

Driver Fatigue

Whether from a lack of sleep or from physical exertion, fatigued driving is equally as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Fatigue impairs a driver’s reaction time and, in worst case scenarios, can lead to fatal accidents. Taking the risk of driving fatigued is common in the trucking industry because the industry is governed by deadlines and profit maximization. Such a risk, however, puts all drivers on the road in danger.

How FSCMA Addresses These Hazards

To combat some of these hazards, the FMCSA enforces specific regulations that seek to suppress the dangerous behavior.

Distracted Driving

Federal regulations prohibit texting while driving a CMV and give drivers one free pass before imposing punishment. On the second texting offense within three years, a driver will be disqualified from driving for 60 days. The third violation in three years will result in a 120 day disqualification.

As for laptops, there is a federal regulation that dictates the placement of screens that receive television broadcasts and allow for “the viewing of video tapes.” However, there are no prescribed punishments for violations and no regulations that directly address the use of laptop computers to watch DVDs.

Driver Fatigue

The FMCSA’s Hours of Service (HOS) regulations limit how long CMV drivers may drive during a certain time period. For example, a CMV driver carrying property may drive no more than 11 hours after 10 hours of consecutive hours off duty and may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.

HOS compliance is currently monitored through paper logs supported by documents such as toll receipts. Because paper logs can be falsified, the FMCSA is looking to implement the use of Electronic Onboard Recorders (EOBRs) to monitor HOS compliance.

Alcohol and Controlled Substances

Federal regulations strictly prohibit driving under the influence of controlled substances. Additionally, motor carrier companies are required to randomly test their drivers for drug and alcohol use.

Every year, the FMCSA conducts a two-week long Drug and Alcohol Strike Force sweep to take unsafe CMV drivers off the road. In 2010, 109 commercial bus and truck drivers were removed from the road. Specifically, the FMCSA analyzes drivers’ drug and alcohol safety records to find drivers who move from carrier to carrier to avoid federal drug and alcohol testing and reporting. Those violators are barred from commercial driving and assessed fines. Additionally, motor carrier companies face fines for failing to maintain proper testing programs and records.

Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) Initiative

In December 2010, the FMCSA introduced the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) initiative, which is a nationwide compliance and enforcement model that seeks to address safety concerns before truck accidents happen. The CSA Operational Model has three components: Measurement, Evaluation and Intervention. CSA measures a carrier’s or driver’s safety performance by quantifying behavior in the following areas:

  • Unsafe driving
  • Fatigued Driving
  • Driver Fitness
  • Crash History
  • Vehicle Maintenance
  • Improper Loading and Cargo
  • Controlled Substance – Drugs and Alcohol

Next, the quantitative measurement is used to evaluate how to specifically address an unsafe carrier’s or driver’s unique needs. Then, an intervention is made, with contact ranging from a letter to a targeted onsite or roadside inspection. The FMCSA follows up with corrective measures ranging from voluntary safety plans to an order to stop all motor vehicle operations.

Despite the FMCSA’s best efforts, trucking is still a business with deadlines to meet, quotas to be filled and money to be made. For that reason, carriers and CMV drivers will continue to violate regulations and the FMCSA cannot be everywhere at once to stop them. Violations lead to accidents. If you or a loved one has been involved in a trucking accident, contact an attorney specializing in personal injury and the trucking industry immediately.

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