The House of Representatives recently passed a highway reauthorization bill that includes a provision raising the required liability insurance for commercial trucking from $750,000 to $2 million, mandates automatic braking on new trucks, and increases scrutiny of truck dispatching services. The Senate has yet to put forward its version of a highway bill, but a Nassau County, Fla., jury on Aug. 20 returned a verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit that will have long-ranging impact on truck drivers and owners.

On Sept. 4, 2017, college student Connor Dzion, 18, was killed while his vehicle was among others stopped on Interstate 95 near Yulee, Fla. A flipped semi-truck—whose driver had been driving while talking on a cell phone—caused the traffic backup, and the driver of another semi rammed into the back of the line of vehicles at speed. The punitive damages awarded to Dzion’s family tops $1 billion against both carriers. “A loss like that can put a company out of business so quickly,” states Commodor Hall, ISRI’s senior director of safety. “Even if they take it to a higher court on appeal to get a verdict overturned, the legal costs alone are astronomical.”

Although the final outcome of the Florida case is unclear, “nuclear verdicts,” which feature damage awards of $10 million or more against carriers, have been on the rise recently. The American Transportation Research Institute released research in 2020 that confirms large verdicts against trucking fleets are increasing dramatically, both in number and in amount. After studying 600 cases between 2006 and 2019, ATRI researchers found that over the first five years, there were 26 cases over $1 million, and in the last five years of the data, there were nearly 300 cases. The number of verdicts over $10 million nearly doubled in that time. The research documents that from 2010 to 2018, the size of damage awards grew 51.7% per year.

ISRI works with lawmakers to ensure fair policies toward commercial vehicle operators. But to prevent incidents, ISRI recommends starting with the basics: Build a culture of safety. ISRI.org features a slew of resources to help.

To aid members with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration compliance issues, ISRI created the DOT Self-Audit Checklist. While it’s not an end-all, be-all document for maintaining compliance, the self-audit helps identify opportunities where management can improve a motor carrier’s overall safety performance and safety management controls. Hall notes that ISRI can help members navigate the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. “Motor carriers are required to run limited queries on their drivers annually. For new hires, a motor carrier is required to run a full query on the driver,” he notes.

With equipment manufacturer ACE, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, and the National Waste Recycling Association (NWRA), ISRI developed the industry standards for lugger truck container securement in 2020. Common safety practices like proper mirror adjustment and avoiding slips, trips, and falls; materials shipping guidelines; and core practices and values for drivers are covered by guidance on the ISRI site. ISRI’s Geared Up for Safety addresses valuable safety processes that can be easy to overlook when time and money are on the line.

ISRI is one of the FMCSA’s partners in Our Roads, Our Safety, a national program to get drivers of all vehicles to be courteous and share the road. ISRI also keeps members informed of events like the CVSA’s Operation Safe Driver Week that focus on safe operations. The annual ISRI Transportation Safety Awards (sponsored by the RecycleGuard® Insurance Program) reflect the value and importance that the industry places on vehicle safety, by recognizing the top performers in the field, both at the company and individual levels.

Beyond trucking concerns, ISRI also publishes the Safety Point newsletter, which focuses on issues commonly found throughout the recycling industry. The association offers multiple training programs that can be tailored to individual member needs. Please contact isrisafety@isri.org for fees and additional information.

Photo Courtesy of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Caption: An Alabama state trooper reviews an inspection checklist with a truck driver.

 

Dan Hockensmith

Dan Hockensmith

I'm a native Ohioan who since 2014 has called Maryland home. My background includes print, broadcast, and digital journalism; government contracting; marketing communications; and nonprofit advocacy.