FMCSA Shuts Down Thousands of Truck Drivers for Service Violations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration oversees the trucking industry. Part of the Federal Highway Administration, the FMCSA is the lead government agency responsible for preventing truck accidents by regulating commercial motor vehicles and investigating violations. Unfortunately, the FMCSA found thousands of vehicles and drivers to be in violation of federal regulations in 2020.
Drug and Alcohol Violations
A clearinghouse conducted by the FMCSA recorded more than 56,000 drug and alcohol violations in 2020. Established in September 2019, this drug and alcohol clearinghouse is part of a new annual initiative to better enforce FMCSA regulations and keep drunk and drugged truck drivers off the roads.
Per the FMCSA, all employers are “required to conduct queries in the Clearinghouse when hiring a new commercial driver’s license (CDL) holder”, as well as once a year for all currently employed truck drivers. In addition to conducting thorough pre-employment checks, trucking companies are supposed to regularly check their drivers to ensure that none of them have any substance violations. Tests are then conducted pre-employment, post-accident, and at random, as well as when there is reasonable suspicion that the driver would fail a controlled substance test. Tests are also conducted to follow up when a driver has failed, as a requirement before allowing them to return to duty.
Marijuana use was the most common reason for failure, with 29,500 driver violations recorded. Behind marijuana was cocaine, with 7,940 drivers testing positive, and 4,953 drivers failed due to amphetamine use. Only 1,203 drivers failed due to alcohol use, with most of those drivers testing for blood alcohol concentrations of 0.04 or more. In addition to testing positive for drugs and alcohol, refusing a drug or alcohol test also contributes to these figures, with 7,803 drivers refusing a drug test and 287 drivers refusing an alcohol test.
Driver, Vehicle, Hazmat, and Other Violations
In addition to drug and alcohol violations, the FMCSA also found a number of other violations last year. Of the 2,292,326 driver inspections conducted in 2020, 746,330 were found to have driver violations. The number one driver violation was speeding 6-10 miles above the speed limit, with 57,026 drivers recorded. Other common driver violations found include failing to obey traffic control devices, failing to use seat belts, and falsifying report of drivers’ record of duty status.
There were also a number of vehicle violations. In 2020, 1,628,002 vehicle inspections were conducted. Of those 1,628,002 inspections, 521,255 were found to have vehicle out-of-service violations, with 2,254,895 violations found among them. The most commonly found violation was inoperable required lamps, with 278,377 violations recorded, or 12.35% of vehicle violations in 2020. The next commonly cited issue was operating a CMV without proof of periodic inspection, with 134,255 instances of noncompliance reported, followed by clamp or roto brakes being out of adjustment (99,202) and issues with a fire extinguisher (95,091).
Hazmat violations were reported as well. The FMCSA counted 29,179 vehicles with hazmat violations of the 141,576 hazmat vehicles inspected. Common violations include unsecured loads, improper shipping papers and placarding, and issues with emergency response information.
Still more violations fell under the catch-all “other” category. 664,913 inspections found violations falling in this category, including hauling excessive/unsafe weight, state vehicle registration and/or license place violations, insurance violations, and miscellaneous driver’s license violations.
New Year, New Violations
Unfortunately, the new year has brought on an onslaught of violations with it as well. A Minnesota trucker was shut down by the FMCSA in March of this year after violating an out-of-service order that he received just 24 hours prior. In February, Jordan Bane was driving in Vermont when he was stopped by an officer for a roadside safety inspection. The inspector, noticing the odor of marijuana, searched the tractor-trailer and discovered marijuana, a controlled substance for which the driver did not have a prescription, and two synthetic urine kits.
The officer issued a citation for the possession of narcotics and issued an out-of-service order for 24 hours. Yet before the 24-hour order expired, the officer stopped Bane again, this time a couple of hours away. He was served a federal order on March 5th forbidding him from driving until he could undergo an evaluation by a certified medical examiner and be cleared to go back to work. Failure to comply could lead to fines up to $1,895.
And a few weeks later, the former owner of a trucking company was apparently sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for faking government records, committing aggravated identity theft conducting bank and wire fraud, and committing tax evasion. It was alleged that Michael Chaves, the former owner of the Rhode Island company, used another person’s identity and information to continue to operate his fleet of trucks after the FMCSA ordered him to shut down his business for operating unsafely.
Federal Agency Citation
He was cited by the federal agency for allowing workers to drive without a current or valid commercial driver’s license, not maintaining certifications proving drivers were medically able to perform their duties, letting drivers exceed the legal hours of operations limits, and not testing drivers for drugs and alcohol. The company was also involved in an alleged package return scam that cost Amazon over $640,000.
And on March 17th, a Birmingham-based trucking company called Woods Dependable Towing LLC. was ordered by the FMCSA to cease all operations, both intrastate and interstate, as investigators had found the company to pose an “imminent hazard” to public safety.
The federal agency issued this declaration due to a surprisingly high number of the company’s vehicles failing surprise roadside inspections over the course of the past couple of years. More than half of the Woods Dependable Towing trucks inspected were ordered out of service due to major safety violations including but not limited to worn and/or flat tires, inoperable lights and lighting systems, and faulty or deficient brakes.
The Alabama company was also cited for falsifying records of duty and failing to ensure that they were hiring qualified drivers, with one driver routinely disabling the truck’s mandatory electronic logging device, exceeding the legal hours of service regulations, and being cited for causing two single-vehicle crashes within the span of three weeks.
FMCSA Fine Increase
However, when trucking companies don’t comply, the FMCSA is set to issue significant penalties. On May 3rd, the FMCSA increased the fine amounts for federal violations. Each year, they must increase the penalty to adjust for inflation in accordance with the Federal Civil Penalties Act of 2015. The smallest FMCSA penalty, for first-time tariff violations, is $334, while the largest is $194,691, for hazmat violations that result in the destruction of property, severe illness, and/or serious or fatal injuries. Despite these yearly fine increases, however, these major safety violations still continue to occur, ultimately leaving innocent motorists to pay the price.
If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident involving an 18-wheeler, tractor-trailer, box truck, or another kind of commercial motor vehicle, it is imperative that you speak with a Truck Accident Lawyer. There are a number of factors that could have contributed to the accident, including but not limited to driver and vehicle violations, drug and alcohol use, and negligence on behalf of the trucking, shipping, and broker companies. That’s why you need an experienced Truck Accident Lawyer on your side. Contact The Callahan Law Firm today so we can begin investigating your case right away. Give us a call at 713-224-9000, or fill out our contact form here.
Michael S Callahan is an attorney and founder of The Callahan Law Firm. He focuses his practice on representing individuals and families in personal injury cases involving motor vehicle and truck accidents, workplace accidents and defective products. With over 25 years of experience, he is dedicated to fighting on behalf of people whose lives have been forever altered by the negligence and carelessness of corporations and individuals. Originally trained as a mechanical engineer, Michael has been practicing law and fighting for justice for those who need it most since 1994. He is board-certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and a member of various esteemed legal associations. Outside of work, Michael enjoys spending quality time with his family, outdoor activities, and continually striving to improve as a trial lawyer and human being.