Commercial Truck Safety Overview – A Must Read!

Points of interest from this report are shown below, but please click here to read the full report.

“According to an FMCSA study, two-thirds of commercial truck crashes are caused by the other driver, not the commercial driver.” (Note: FMCSA’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study is available at

While Congress directed the FMCSA to include “a requirement that DOT consider establishing an examination that would test officers of new applicants on their knowledge of federal safety standards . . . FMCSA has not yet determined that new entrants should have to pass such an exam.”

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) “cites estimates that half of all motor carriers operate solely within a single state and hence are not subject to federal safety audits.”

“The federal weight limits—20,000 pounds on a single axle, 34,,000 pounds on a tandem axle, and 80,000 pounds overall gross vehicle weight—have been unchanged since 1974. But in recent years Congresss has approved a number of waivers, generally on a state-by-state basis.”

“In 2015, 17% of fatal crashes involving large trucks involved a passenger vehicle rear-ending a large truck.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “required that trucks over 26,000 pounds manufactured after August 2017 be equipped with electronic stability control.”

“The proposal to require heavy vehicles to be equipped with speed limiters is supported by the American Trucking Associations . . . It is opposed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association . . . ”

(Paraphrase) The FMCSA issued a final rule in December 2016 which requires entry-level commercial drivers to complete a prescribed course covering both knowledge and behind-the-wheel performance, with this rule taking effect in February 2020. The original proposed rule was going to require at least 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training in order to be eligible for the CDL. However, FMCSA dropped this requirement because they could not find evidence “that a certain amount of behind-the-wheel training has an impact on the safety performance of new drivers. It cited executive orders directing agencies to design regulations based on performance objectives rather than specifying the manner of compliance.”

The “34-hour restart” provision is explained well on page 9 of the report. After lots of legal wrangling, the restart requirement that had been in effect prior to June 2013 is what is in effect now. This is because the cost-benefit study that had been mandated in the 2015 DOT Appropriations Act “did not find a net benefit from the two suspended provisions—the one restart per week and the two consecutive 1:00 AM tto 5:00 AM rest periods—on driver operations, safety, fatigue, and hhealth.”

The electronic logging device requirement will take effect in December 2017. (The report does not cover the exemptions to this rule.)

The FMCSA recently began another rulemaking effort, jointly with the Federal Railroad Administration, which might ultimately require that any commercial driver or train operator “who exhibits certain risk factors must be screened for obstructive sleep apnea. If adopted, such a rule would eliminate the discretion of a medical fitness examiner to determine whether such screening is necessary.”

“A commercial driver with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.04 is considered impaired.” This is half the typical impairment threshold (0.08 blood alcohol level) for non-commercial drivers.

“Researchers contend that the primary risk to drivers using phones is not from the physical distraction of holding them but from the cognitive distraction of carrying on a conversation while driving.”

CSA program: “Because the percentile rankings of carriers are based on comparison with other carriers rather than a fixed standard, unrepresentative results for some carriers can affect the rankings of other carriers. As a result, GAO found that FMCSA had unjustifiably identified many carriers as high risk.”

“In an analysis published in 2014, GAO found that most of the regulations that are used to calculate SMS scores are not violated often enough to determine whether they are strongly associated with the risk that individual carriers will be involved in crashes.”

In the December 2015 Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act, Congress “directed the National Research Council to study the CSA program, particularly its safety measurement system (SMS).”

Read Full Report (pdf).

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