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Dangerous truckers push the rules, FMCSA pushes back

Written by Steve Gursten Posted March 15th, 2013

A driver who was repeatedly found to have contraband in his truck during inspection has been “immediately” suspended

Safety regulation is essential to maintaining safe highways. But safety regulation only counts if it is enforced when ignored.  So what can be done when truckers knowingly and maliciously break the rules?

One option is that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), through the Secretary of Transportation, has the power to immediately suspend drivers who are deemed to be an imminent threat to public safety.

The Secretary is granted this power pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 521(b)(5)(A). The provision reads:

If, upon inspection or investigation, the Secretary determines that a violation…poses an imminent hazard to safety, the Secretary shall order a vehicle or employee operating such vehicle out of service, or order an employer to cease all or part of the employer’s commercial motor vehicle operations…

The suspension is mandatory.  The Secretary “shall” order the commercial vehicle or truck driver employee out of service.  This is a powerful tool in the war on dangerous truck drivers who choose to ignore mandatory safety rules that are meant to protect us all.

As lawyers, we know all too well that  all of the regulation and all the laws in the world will not prevent truck accidents where truckers knowingly cut safety corners because they don’t care and know they won’t be held accountable.

It is also obvious that FMCSA regulation will only achieve so much. This provision gives authorities the power to effectively push back against those dangerous drivers who seem to think the law does not apply to them.

I recently came across a story where this provision was used to get a very dangerous trucker off of the road.  Currently, the Federal Regulations prohibit commercial drivers from operating heavy vehicles if they are in possession of, or have consumed, controlled substances or alcohol.  This regulation makes a lot of sense.

A driver was recently inspected driving for a Minnesota based trucking company.  Astonishingly, his cab contained alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs.  Even more outrageous was the fact that this was not the first or even the second time this driver had been caught with these substances in his truck.

This was the third time he had been caught with this contraband in his vehicle.

This dangerous driver knowingly disregarded safety regulations, and had been caught twice before.

So this is where the 49 U.S.C. § 521(b)(5)(A) comes in.  The Secretary immediately suspended him from operating commercial vehicles pursuant to the Federal Statute.  This is a great example of how the FMCSA can fight back against drivers who knowingly, and recklessly disregard safety.

Regarding “immediately,” yes the FMSCA did a good thing by suspending this trucker.  We are all lucky he didn’t cause a serious injury or death  before they suspended him on his third time being caught. The better move would have been to suspend him before the third time he chose to break the law with complete disregard for the lives of others on the road.

Related information:

Jason’s Law: Making the highways safer for commercial truckers

Regulations of a self-regulated trucking industry

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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