Linda Witherspoon says her grandchildren still have nightmares about the time a tractor trailer crashed through the side of her Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home. On an October day in 2012, Luis Bienes Vega was driving a tractor trailer through a West End neighborhood when he realized that his brakes were't working. His loaded tractor trailer was heading down a hill when it slammed into a parked car and two school buses; this before smashing into Witherspoon's house, narrowly missing her grandchildren inside.
Officials examined the wrecked truck, finding that the brakes were completely out of alignment, allowing one of the wheels to spin freely. The most disconcerting part of this Pennsylvania truck accident was that Vega's truck had been flagged only a month earlier by law enforcement officials in Tennessee. During that stop, authorities checked off numerous safety issues, including bald tires, maintenance violations, and - you guessed it - brakes out of alignment. The truck belonged to ABC Freight, a company that in only three years of operation had received nearly 300 safety violations with only 14 trucks in the company fleet.
You might be wondering how something like this can happen, where an unsafe truck could travel across state lines so freely. The truth is that the enforcement of truck safety requirements is not done at a federal level, rather states themselves create their own enforcement protocol. Tractor trailer inspections are conducted the same across state lines, but the enforcement of a particular violation is different from state to state. For example, states like Maryland and Connecticut issue roughly nine times more truck safety violations per mile driven than states like North Dakota and Delaware, where enforcement is more lax. States also have their own unique safety issues they traditionally target. Like Pennsylvania, where a driver is more likely to be cited for driving without a medical certificate, or in Ohio, a trucker is more likely to be cited for inoperable truck lights. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has basic requirements that states must follow, but the agency allows states to enforce truck safety laws however they see fit.
In 2010, the "Compliance, Safety, Accountability" (or CSA) was launched to create a codified federal system in which truck companies have their safety statistics posted online. If a company has violations or accidents, it negatively affects their score. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, lawmakers like Congressman Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) are trying to get the FMCSA to take a hard look at the CSA, believing it to unfairly penalize companies operating in states with more stringent safety standards. But according to consumer advocates, violations are violations, no matter what state they occur in. And with more than 14,000 people losing their lives in truck crashes since 2009, safety should be the main priority at hand, not worrying about whether trucking companies are unfairly penalized.