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DOT aims to loosen reporting requirements for pre-trip and post-trip inspections

Written by Steve Gursten Posted September 12th, 2013

The U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed requiring a truck driver to submit a report only when a safety hazard is detected during inspection

pretrip inspectionThe U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently made a significant proposed change in the way trucking companies and truck drivers file their reports for pre-trip inspections and post-trip inspections. The proposed change comes after President Obama ordered regulators to cut back and reduce the bureaucratic red tape to improve economic conditions in the private sector.

With so many thousands of serious truck accidents, and so many that are caused by improper or negligent maintenance, we’re just surprised this was a place to start.

Under current regulatory rules, truck drivers must conduct pre-trip and post-trip inspections of their semi-trucks. Following those inspections, the truck driver is required to file driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs). These reports detail the inspection, and document any deficiencies or issues that the truck driver became aware of during the inspection. Currently, the DVIRs must be filed regardless of whether there is a safety issue, or whether everything in the inspection checks out.

But this would change under the proposed reform.

Under the new rule, truckers would only have to file DVIRs when they detect a safety issue with the truck.  If there are no issues with the truck, then a DVIR is not required to be filed.

The Department of Transportation estimates that this will save the trucking industry about $1.7 billion annually, without compromising safety, according to an article on EHS, “Proposal to Reduce Inspection Paperwork Would Save Trucking Industry $1.7 Billion.”  The department also points out that of all the DVIRs that are currently filed, only about 5% of them report safety problems with the semi-truck.

The department maintains that by eliminating the unremarkable 95% of reports, the federal Motor Safety Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) can focus on those reports with documented safety risks.

The CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), Bill Graves, expressed support for the measure.  Graves praised the Department of Transportation and President Obama, but added that he hopes the department will go even further and provide more flexibility regarding sleeper-berths, security background checks, and the CSA crash accountability system.

Concededly, this measure will save money and ease the administrative burden on the trucking industry.  However, having successfully litigated countless preventable truck accidents, I fear that this proposed change will invite even more truck crashes.

When I am invited to speak to trucking companies, or at defense lawyer seminars on truck accidents, I always say that based upon the cases I have litigated, the majority of truck drivers care about safety. These are the good truckers that respect the rules and conduct thorough pre-trip and post-trip inspections. They document safety hazards they discover, or they sign off on their reports only when they are sincerely convinced that no safety issues exist.

Unfortunately, there are also truck drivers who break the rules, or who are pushed by the trucking companies they work for to do shoddy inspections, or skip inspections entirely in order to save time.  As the lawyers get involved in these cases and begin reviewing the critical documents, these inspection reports can become very important.

Again, as the system stands now, truckers must file pre-trip and post-trip inspection reports regardless of any safety concerns.  At a bare minimum, truckers who poorly inspect their semi-trucks or fail to inspect them, yet file satisfactory DVIRs, could be subject to penalty for false reporting.  This still serves as a deterrent.

Under the proposed regulation, this extra incentive to inspect a truck seems to vanish.

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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