Unsafe Trucks and Outdated Laws Hurt Trucking Crash Victims

An outdated economic model allows unsafe trucking companies to operate on U.S. roads, according to a new report released today by the American Association for Justice (AAJ).  “Truck Safety Alert: Rising Danger from Trucks and How to Stop It” details safety hazards in the trucking industry, including a compensation program that promotes fatigued driving and ignores safety risks, as well as  inadequate insurance limits that shift the cost burden to taxpayers, medical insurance carriers, and Medicare.

According to the report, artificially low insurance limits prevent unsafe trucking carriers from ever being held responsible for the full amount of damage they cause.  A fatal truck crash costs approximately $4.3 million in direct costs, yet the insurance minimum for cargo trucks has remained at $750,000 since 1980. Adjusted for inflation, the rate would be equal to $2.2 million today, or $4.4 million adjusted for the equivalent in medical care dollars. This allows companies and drivers to take risks that jeopardize public safety. 

One Virginia State Trooper was killed in 2002 when a commercial tow truck turned in front of him while the trooper was responding to a call of gun shots fired during the D.C. sniper crisis. The trooper had his lights and siren on, but the truck driver was on his cell phone. The statutory minimum insurance requirement of $750,000 applied to the truck, while the trooper’s lost income and services were around $2 million.

Without adequate insurance limits for the trucking industry, all consumers pay the price when a vehicle and truck collide.  Not only are consumers who share the roads with trucks at risk, but so are truck drivers who operate in an industry that incentivizes risky driving conditions.  Congress needs to address the antiquated trucking insurance limits.

This report has market-based solutions that would make strides towards increased trucking safety, including looking at truck drivers’ compensation – not just related to hours logged – and raising insurance requirements.

Key facts:

·       3,757 people died in trucking accidents in the U.S. in 2011. Fatalities (per miles driven) are 17 percent higher for trucks than for passenger vehicles.

·       More than 28,000 trucking companies with safety violations operate on U.S. roads. 

·       Nearly three times as many people die in truck accidents as die in aviation, boating, and railroad accidents combined.

·       In a fatal two-vehicle crash involving vehicle and a large truck, 97 percent of the deaths were the occupants in the passenger vehicle.

·       Last week the Trucking Alliance, a coalition of trucking companies, published a study detailing 42 percent of crash settlements exceeded the federal government’s minimum insurance requirement for trucking companies.