In late March 2010, news of one of the worst motor vehicle accidents in Kentucky history quickly made national headlines. Eleven people lost their lives when a semi truck crossed the median on Interstate 65, hitting a van carrying a Mennonite family on its way to a wedding in Iowa. The only survivors in the van were two children, ages 4 and 5. The truck driver, 45-year-old Kenneth Layman, also was killed in the crash.

Layman worked for Hester Incorporated, an Alabama-based trucking company. In February 2010, Hester Inc. had received a “deficient” safety rating for its drivers from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency in charge of regulating commercial carriers, including tractor-trailers. The rating was based on a 30-month review of the company’s 30 drivers.

Further investigations into Hester Inc.’s safety records revealed that the company’s drivers had been pulled off the roads for safety violations at nearly twice the rate of other trucking companies — 11.5 percent of the time, compared with the national average of 6.6 percent for other motor carriers. Over the past two years, Hester Inc.’s drivers had been cited for 39 logbook violations and 15 hours-of-service violations (for exceeding federal limits on driving hours).

Despite the FMCSA’s finding that Hester’s drivers were not meeting the agency’s mandated safety standards, the agency did not take action to suspend or otherwise sideline the company’s drivers or trucks.

FMCSA Safety Regulations

The FMCSA was created in 2000 to increase the safety of commercial carriers and decrease the number of accidents, injuries and fatalities involving semi trucks, buses and other commercial carriers.

Accordingly, the agency has the authority to promulgate and enforce regulations requiring commercial vehicles to meet certain safety standards. These standards include setting limits on the number of hours truck drivers may drive their vehicles at a time (hours-of-service regulations) as well as requiring commercial carriers to regularly maintain and service their fleets.

The FMCSA also is in charge of issuing permits to motor carrier companies that allow them to transport goods across state lines. When motor carrier companies and the drivers they employ violate the agency’s safety regulations, the FMCSA can take action against them, including pulling the motor carrier’s permit and requiring the company to remove a certain truck or driver from the road.

But for the FMCSA to take this type of action against a motor carrier, that carrier must score a deficiency rating in three out of the four categories measured by the agency’s safety status measurement system, or SafeStat. SafeStat is an automated analysis system that the FMCSA uses to determine which motor carriers pose the biggest safety risks. SafeStat generates ratings in four categories — drivers, vehicles, accidents and safety management — to come up with a cumulative SafeStat score. Prior to the March 2010 accident, Hester Inc. had received a deficiency rating only in the driver category, which was not enough to trigger action by the FMCSA.

Contact an Experienced Trucking Accident Lawyer

As shown by the tragic trucking accident in southern Kentucky, a deficiency rating in just one of the FMCSA’s SafeStat categories can be enough to result in a catastrophic loss of life.

Truck drivers owe a high duty of care to the traveling public to operate their vehicles in a safe manner. When a truck driver acts negligently and causes an accident, the result is often serious injury or death to the occupants of other vehicles. Trucking companies also owe a duty to the public to maintain their vehicles in a safe working manner. This means having fleets checked regularly and servicing the trucks if something is not working properly.

If you or a loved one has been harmed in a trucking accident, an experienced attorney can help you. The FMCSA does not have to reprimand a motor carrier or remove a truck or driver from the road for it to be considered unsafe. For more information on taking legal action following a trucking accident, contact a lawyer experienced in handling truck accident claims today.