The tragic deaths of the five Georgia Southern University nursing students have weighed heavy on my mind. The loss of any life is unimaginable, but the loss of 5? My heart and prayers go out to the family during this most difficult time.
After hearing of the tractor-trailer accident that claimed these nursing students' lives in April, I began to wonder, as anyone else would: What went wrong? More important: Was there a way to prevent it?
The answer, I believe, is a firm "YES."
When a trucking company is in the bottom 10 percent for safe on-road performance, one has to ask: Are the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations tough enough?
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, Total Transportation of Mississippi has a total of 945 violations in the past 24 months, with 263 of those being unsafe driving violations, and 244 because of driver inspection violations.
In fact, as one of the highest at risk companies, TTOM is noted on the FMCSA's website as unsafe and within the "intervention" threshold, which places the company in a group that "may be prioritized for an intervention action." This begs the question why was this company in a "may be" category for intervention instead of one where it was mandatory the government intervened?
CSA's goal is to implement a more effective and efficient ways for FMCSA and trucking companies to prevent commercial motor vehicle crashes, fatalities and injuries. The process is an upgrade for FMCSA and the complete guidelines are not fully outlined within the Carrier Safety Measurement System Methodology, which was revised in September 2014. Through CSA, Safety Measurement Enforcement Officers maintain data on each company within the U.S. These officers evaluate each company to determine significant safety issues, which can place a company into an "intervention process." TTOM, has been on this list for more than a year.
Enforcement officers provide a company with critical data that can help steer itself out of trouble. If on-road performance continues to decline, the company can remain on intervention or be considered for an "unfit" safety determination. Violations are weighed on a scale of 1 to 10 - 10 representing the highest crash risk. Total Transportation of Mississippi has numerous violations ranking at a 10, including citations for speeding more than 15 miles above the speed limit, using a hand-held device, reckless driving and operating while fatigued.
I believe a year is too long to determine whether or not a trucking company is doing its best to protect its drivers but - more importantly - those on the road around them.
The overall statistics for tractor trailer accidents are alarming as well.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2013 3,602 people were killed in accidents involving a tractor trailer. This equals 11 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths from that year.
Half of the tractor trailer wrecks here in Georgia involve out of state trucking companies.
Sixty percent of deaths in large truck crashes in 2013 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways, 30 percent occurred on interstates and freeways, and 10 percent occurred on minor roads.
And, 23 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in multiple-vehicle crashes in 2013 occurred in crashes with large trucks.
Here is another important factor to keep in mind:
- A tractor trailer weights more than 10,000 pounds and the maximum weight for a truck traveling on an interstate highway is 80,000 pounds.