The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has reported an increase in truck-involved crashes and fatality rates in recent years. This statistical trend has led to a call from conscientious and well-meaning safety advocates to force even more onerous requirements on motor vehicle carriers of all types. Predictably, members of the legal profession who represent those injured in crashes involving large trucks also see the potential for greater financial rewards in calling for greater insurance requirements for those carriers.
However, a closer look at the statistics reveals an increase in accidents across the board on our roadways, considering passenger vehicles. On its face that increase seems puzzling in light of the decrease in overall traffic numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the adoption of work-from-home policies that have limited office commutes and the driving patterns of many consumers. There is a certain logic to the belief that the resulting decrease in traffic led to increased speed and inattention by drivers still running the roads, and thus more accidents, particularly crashes involving fatalities.
[Related: NHTSA: Truck-involved crash deaths dipped in 2020 despite overall fatalities increase]
Regardless, the statistics point to a number of categories separate and apart from the adherence to safety measures by motor carriers. The factors that contribute to these increases are multifaceted in nature both in private passenger transportation, as well as in the transportation industry governed by the FMCSA. Frankly, it is inappropriate to look at these statistical increases and lay the sole responsibility on the trucking industry.
When examining the issues of responsibility and liability for any traffic accident, the causation is often the result of unseen circumstances, sudden emergencies or even the fault of the driver of a passenger vehicle involved. Certainly there are many cases where it is revealed that the responsibility for the accident belongs with the plaintiff who has brought the lawsuit against the truck owner.
But those gray areas seem to mean little to the black-and-white view that places responsibility for every collision on a fleet owner or independent owner-operator.