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Time to compromise on the FMCSA’s proposed changes to pre-trip inspection reporting?

Written by Steve Gursten Posted September 18th, 2013

Recent proposal would require truckers to make pre-trip inspection reports only when a defective condition is detected

pre trip inspection reporting

We recently discussed a proposal from the FMCSA that would change the way truck drivers document their pre-trip inspections. To briefly summarize: The FMCSA proposed that truck drivers would only have to submit pre-trip inspection reports if they find some safety concern with the truck.

Truck drivers are currently required to make pre-trip and post-trip inspections of their trucks, even if the truck is safe and roadworthy.

Unremarkable reports make up about 95% of all safety inspections submitted to the administration, according to the FMSCA.

In support of the proposed change, the FMCSA maintains that the relaxed rule would save $1.7 billion annually, and allow the administration to focus solely on the 5% of the reports where there’s a legitimate safety concern.

In preparation for the comment period regarding the proposed change, numerous interested groups have weighed in on the topic.

Loosening pre-trip inspection reporting requirements: A bad idea

Some parties have taken the position that the proposal to loosen pre-trip inspection reporting requirements not a good idea.

As indicated in our earlier blog post, there are certainly dangerous pitfalls in making this change to the rules. Safety advocates argue that the inspection reports are invaluable tools. The requirement to submit reports encourages truckers to actually inspect their semi-trucks, and serves as a reminder akin to a safety checklist that a pilot would work through before flying an airplane.

Subscribers to this view maintain that the safety report reminds truck drivers that certain safety precautions must be taken. Big rigs can weigh (legally) up to 80,000 pounds, and that additional safety check is highly beneficial because of the dangerous nature of a fully loaded semi-truck.

Those who think scrapping pre-trip inspections would make sense

Other commentators are of the opinion that this change in the rules would make sense. People who subscribe to this view point to the fact that the pre-trip inspection is still required. The proposed change does not exempt a truck driver from performing a pre-trip inspection. A trucker is still obligated to inspect his vehicle and to be satisfied that it is roadworthy. It just eases the administrative burden by eliminating unremarkable reports.

Supporters also point out that the inspection would still be recorded in the trucker’s log book. This viewpoint emphasizes that there is still required documentation which would ensure that inspections do not slip away and become the exception rather than the rule.

Meeting in the middle on the FMSCA pre-trip inspection rule?

As an experienced truck accident attorney, I know how critical pre-trip inspections are, as I’ve seen first-hand the devastation caused by truck wrecks. Fully loaded transport trucks can be lethal weapons when they’re poorly maintained. But pre-trip inspections are necessary and can literally save lives.

After careful reflection on the issue, I wonder if there is a middle ground. In my capacity, I know that there are some bad truck drivers out there who will skimp on safety. I see the benefit of requiring inspection reports to be filed — even when that report simply says there is nothing wrong with the truck. Requiring these reports to be filed is another safeguard, and will help develop a safety routine for truckers before they pull onto the highway.

But I also see the benefit of the $1.7 billion in savings by eliminating the reporting requirements where there are no mechanical concerns with the truck. This is money that could be reallocated into other safety initiatives. It could be used to improve driver training, or to invest in safer and more advanced equipment, for example.

There is merit to both sides of the argument, but again, the fear is that if the reporting requirement is changed, truck drivers will not actually do the inspections, and pre-trip inspections will be skipped over entirely.

One possible solution is requiring a pre-trip inspection report on a weekly basis.

Perhaps a system could be developed where truck drivers only had to report their pre-trip inspections once per week, and one single filing could encompass Monday through Sunday. There could be separate fields corresponding to the days and reports could be made accordingly. In theory, this would significantly cut down the administrative burden imposed on the FMCSA but also maintain the integrity of the pre-trip inspection routine.

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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