As many carriers struggle with driver shortages during the surge in demand that arose from 2020’s events, hours-of-service and Commercial Driver’s License regulations are being loosened. Although some argue that the influx of innovative trucking technology, such as in-cab monitoring systems and various radar sensors, are making trucking safer than ever, Ken Levinson and Jay Stefani say it’s not going to be a big help for current trucking safety issues.
“Trucking companies are putting some of this technology in the trucks, but are they actually using it?” asked Stefani. “We had a case recently where all of a trucking company’s trucks had a device that was essentially like a black box tracking speed, acceleration, and deceleration. It notices if a truck driver is making a sudden stop–because typically, if you’re making a sudden stop, it means you’re not managing the space in front of you. You’re not paying attention, and you’re having to slam on the brakes. So, this trucking company did well to have this device in their trucks, and they knew that this particular truck driver had at least two sudden stop issues before the crash that we’re now dealing with. But the problem is, they didn’t do anything about it. There wasn’t any additional training.”
Stefani explained that there are many ways trucking companies can use the data recorded from this technology to improve driver performance–but too often, nothing is done.
“There wasn’t any disciplinary action taken, and they didn’t have anything to show that they actually sat down with this driver and said, ‘Hey, you had these two near-misses. Let’s walk through and work on how you can avoid these in the future.’ They didn’t do that, and one of our clients was rear ended by this truck driver who wasn’t paying attention and slammed on the brakes way too late.”
Still, Levinson wants to make it clear that the role of a personal injury lawyer isn’t to fight against all truckers–but to make sure drivers are able to stay as safe as possible and held accountable when they’re at the cause of a safety issue.
“We’re not anti-truck driver. We’re not an anti-truck company or transportation. We’re just anti-unsafe ones, if you will,” Levinson explained. “Certain companies have a culture of safety and they do a fine job. But we need to be diligent and make sure the safety rules aren’t so relaxed that it’s just too dangerous.”
Levinson explained that it appears the new flexibility of so many safety regulations is only the tip of the iceberg.
“A lot if the industry in general is just getting to that line–trying to move that marker–further and further away from what is really reasonably safe,” he said. “A lot of truckers and employees just don’t have the power to make sure it’s safe for them. They’re under a lot of pressure to drive a lot of hours and make deliveries on time. If the industry isn’t going to keep things safe, you have to have some governmental regulations and, unfortunately, lawyers that will hold them accountable when they cause harm. That’s what we do. Frankly, we represent a lot of truck drivers that were injured because fellow truck drivers were unsafe and caused a lot of danger.”
As innovative trucking technology progresses and improves, its potential is impressive–but anyone on the road should know that this technology, even automated vehicle technology, can’t replace the benefits of a driver being alert, rested, and attentive.
“The truck technology is excellent. It needs to be out there, it needs to be expanded, it needs to be put in every truck,” Stefani said. “But things like where we’re facing crash deterrent detectors or automatic braking blind spot detectors–that’s really a poor substitute for a tired and exhausted truck driver. Technology should be there, but that doesn’t mean that it’s then okay to let a sleepy truck driver stay behind the wheel.”
Levinson explained further that even companies that are using safety technology properly may still have no methods of proper training in place that would truly make a difference among their drivers’ on-road behavior.
“We have cases where we ask for documentation that shows the safety training and the safety policies companies have, and we currently have a significant injury case where the company said, ‘We don’t have any safety policies, internal safety handbooks, or training,’” said Levinson. “And so, the company’s office has been doing nothing on their own, and they need some guidance from elsewhere because they’re not taking the initiative. They’ve proven time and again that they’re not taking safety seriously enough, and so someone needs to make those decisions for them.”
According to Stefani, the biggest problem amongst trucking companies right now isn’t that they pay no attention to safety standards, but that they put the least amount of effort possible into keeping their truckers–and other drivers on the road–safe.
“It’s important to note that these federal and state regulations are minimum safety standards,” Stefani explained. “They’re the bare minimum that trucking companies have to abide by. There are a lot of companies out there that do a very good job of having additional rules for their drivers, and they do additional training and have additional support for those drivers, and those, unsurprisingly, tend to be the trucking companies that have lower rates of incidents. They tend to do a better job of protecting their drivers and protecting the general public. It’s not always an issue of these companies skirting or ignoring safety regulations, it’s them doing the bare minimum.”