In many of our blog posts, we discuss the power of the civil justice system as a vehicle for victims of negligence, abuse, and injustice to make their voices heard. We also discuss how the financial interests of corporations and powerful companies often work against victims, and how they continually push for new laws, amendments, and other changes that benefit their profits rather than real people.
This dynamic is readily apparent in the trucking industry, where powerful corporate entities involved in commercial trucking, consumer products, and distribution inject tremendous amounts of money into politics and lobbying efforts that help them make more money – even when it comes at the expense of public safety. That track record brings new concerns amid the industry’s ongoing struggle with a truck driver shortage.
According to report released earlier this year by the American Trucking Associations, the shortage of commercial drivers is having a big impact on the trucking industry, which ferries nearly 2/3 of all consumer goods in the U.S. The report expands on the long-standing shortage:
- To keep up with rising demand created by an improved economy, trucking operators would need to hire more than 850,000 new truck drivers.
- Data analysis conducted in January showed that for every dozen loads of cargo needing to be shipped, only one truck was available – the lowest proportion of trucks to cargo in almost 15 years.
- Trucking companies are not only struggling with a lack of drivers, but also a lack of adequately trained and qualified drivers.
- The industry reports that part of the problem is due to the fact that the average age of interstate truckers in the U.S. is 55, and that many have or are approaching retirements. The workforce is not being replenished fast enough by newer drivers, many of whom are reluctant to choose trucking as a career to its unusual lifestyle.
As the ATA notes, trucking companies have already begun to find solutions by expanding their options for new drivers, as well as offering more competitive wages to prospective employees. Those efforts, however, may not make an appreciable dent in a problem that puts the industry hundreds of thousands of drivers behind consumer demand.
That large gap, combined with the trucking industry’s history of fighting safety regulations and backing new laws that make it easier for them to profit, pose risks for corporate shortcuts and lobbying efforts that can increase dangers on public roadways, especially when they increase the chances of preventable trucking accidents. Such risks and shortcuts may take the form of:
- Regulatory rollbacks – The trucking industry has a lot of firepower when it comes to lobbying our lawmakers to pass legislation in their favor, as well as amendments or decisions that rollback regulations designed to keep the public safe. With a new administration that favors regulatory rollbacks and unfettered corporate profits, their jobs have become easier, and will likely continue as a means to combat the driver shortage. Just last year, industry lobbyists were able to log Hours-of-Service rules adopted under the Obama administration which required mandatory rest breaks to take place in the early morning hours, a time when sleep is critical. The same efforts are also being waged to rollback other regulations, including the minimum age limits of drivers (the industry wants to allow 18-year-old to drive commercial trucks across state lines), minimum truck weight restrictions, and other regulations that reduce risks of preventable crashes.
- New laws – In addition to rolling back old regulations, trucking companies and others involved in the industry also has a proven record in championing new laws that benefit them more than consumers or public safety, and in preventing proposed safety measures that cost them money from ever becoming new laws. This was exactly the case when the federal regulators decided not to enact tougher regulations on drivers with sleep apnea, a condition that makes them more likely to be involved in crashes, and why they continue to fight safety advancements and new technology proven to save lives, such as electronic on-board logging devices, and underride guards fitted onto the sides of commercial trucks.
- Training / certification sidestepping – In the past, trucking companies have been found to take various shortcuts that save them money and allow them to transport more goods and products, even when it is against the law. These shortcuts have a considerable impact on public safety, especially when they involve shortcuts in ensuring drivers are appropriately trained, certified, or cleared by health professionals. Recently, one Atlanta physician was arrested after he allegedly provided nearly 7,000 truck drivers with fraudulent health certifications. Many of those drivers came from across the country, and either failed drug and alcohol screens, or had medical issues that would preclude them from holding a commercial driver’s license.
- Profits over safety – Struggling to keep up with demand may ultimately mean that trucking operators and their employees will be pressed to increase profits any way they can, even if it means cutting on safety or violating regulations that cap cargo weight, proper cargo securement, vehicle maintenance, and more.
The shortage of truck drivers is a serious problem for the trucking industry, and one that could very well have a larger economic impact on businesses and consumers. Still those consumers and businesses, and their pocketbooks, should not be prioritized over the safety of our public roads and highways, nor should their wishes trump our need to ensure the rules are followed. As we have seen throughout the years representing truck accident victims and others harmed by negligence, when corporations take shortcuts, innocent people get hurt.
Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP has been fighting for seriously injured victims throughout Cleveland, Ohio, and the U.S. since 1946, and our award-winning personal injury lawyers have recovered more than $1 billion in compensation for our clients. If you have questions about a potential case involving a recent truck accident, call (216) 600-0114 for a free case review.