The trucking industry has faced a driver shortage for some time now. Many companies struggle to find qualified and experienced drivers to fill open positions. This shortage could explain why some businesses do not work as hard as they could to make sure that they are not hiring an unfit truck driver. An investigation into a recent accident inspired the National Transportation Safety Board to push for tighter screening and adherence to existing regulations about driver conduct.
Problem drivers keep finding work
The accident that caught the attention of the NTSB involved a driver who killed 6 people and injured 4 others. The driver was speeding, fatigued, having violated the hours-of-service regulations established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and under the influence of methamphetamine. The driver in question also should never have been behind the wheel of a semi truck.
Two years before this fatal truck crash, the driver was cited for illegal drug use. That should have spelled the end of his career operating an 18-wheeler. Unfortunately, he was able to move to a different state, find a different trucking company, and secure another job. The new company checked his driving record. It did not test his hair for prior drug use, as current regulations allow it to do.
Why people speed
A trip down most major highways across the country will show that a significant percentage of drivers exceed the speed limit. Speeding is a common driving behavior, despite research showing it is a common cause of deadly accidents. Since speeding is against the rules and known to be dangerous, why is it still so common? The answer is that people speed because they expect to get away with it. A similar problem afflicts the trucking industry.
Many truck drivers are careful and do not engage in drug or alcohol use. Those who do violate the rules, however, are likely emboldened by an industry that does not do a good job of weeding out drivers who violate the law. If a driver expects to get away with bad behavior, the likelihood of that behavior goes up. The NTSB knows this and that is why its safety recommendations following this latest tragedy revolved around enforcing existing regulations, rather than passing new ones. The goal of reducing or eliminating truck accidents depends as much on enforcing the law as it does on passing new measures to combat dangerous practices.