Over the past weeks a majority of states in the United States have experienced severe winter weather that has impacted the lives of millions of Americans. With severe winter weather comes dangerous driving conditions and increases in deadly accidents.

In response to the recent winter storm damage experienced throughout the country and the historic shut downs in Texas, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a regional emergency declaration covering 33 states and the District of Columbia. The FMCSA was developed to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses within the U.S. Department of Transportation.[1] Under FMCSA emergency declarations, certain Federal safety regulations, such as hours of service, are suspended for motor carriers and drivers engaged in specific aspects of the emergency relief effort. The most recent declaration in response to the states affected granted relief from Parts 390 through 399 of Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations.[2]

Direct assistance ends when a driver or commercial vehicle is not transporting cargo or providing services supporting emergency relief as it relates to the severe winter storms; or when the motor carrier dispatches the driver or commercial motor vehicle to another location to begin operations in commerce.[3] When the direct assistance ends, the driver and motor carrier are again subject to the Federal Regulations mentioned above, unless returning to the motor carrier’s terminal or the driver’s normal work reporting location when returning empty. The emergency declaration still keeps in place certain regulations for drivers such as those regarding controlled substances, alcohol and testing requirements.

With potential for more severe weather impacting greater areas in the future, combined with drivers operating longer hours in response to such events, trucking businesses must mitigate the weather’s impact on their business. On average, there are nearly 6 million vehicle crashes per year, and approximately 21% of these crashes are weather-related. As a result, each year, trucking companies lose an estimated 32.6 billion vehicle hours due to weather-related congestion; and nearly 12% of total estimated truck delay is due to weather in the 20 cities with the greatest volume of truck traffic.[4] The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates the impact to trucking companies from weather related delays ranges from $2.2 billion to $3.5 billion annually. Below is a map of the major freight corridors in the United States[5]:

In response, some fleet owners have turned to using “big data” to mitigate the impacts severe weather events are having on their business. The use of “big data” places sensors in fleet vehicles which are able to provide real-time information about their performance; which in turn allows companies, and their drivers, to use crucial data to make more informed and faster decisions related to dangerous weather conditions such as when to dispatch or choosing which route to take.[6][7]

Real time data driven decisions allow trucking companies to deliver their products in a more efficient way, but more importantly, keep their drivers safe, protect their fleet of vehicles from damage, and protect other drivers on the road from major accidents.

Even with Federal Regulations and companies using everything at their disposal to avoid inclement weather, accidents involving commercial vehicles are unavoidable. If these accidents lead to personal injury or property damage, a lawsuit will surely follow. As illustrated by a recent example of timely and focused investigation on which we recently reported (see The Critical Role of Litigators in Commercial Vehicle Accident Investigations), it is imperative that trucking companies have legal representation readily available for purposes of early identification of evidence and active participation in accident investigations to protect the companies interest. Severe weather, and related accidents, are an inevitability but having legal representation able to respond quickly to the scene of these accidents can help mitigate damages and potential liability to your trucking business by ensuring a complete and thorough investigation is performed.

Mounting evidence seems to support the idea that severe weather events may increase in terms of intensity and duration in the future. Therefore, the trucking industry must adapt and change their practices to mitigate the effects of these severe weather events, and the potential liability that is often a result.

In the coming months MG+M will release a series of articles focusing on possible solutions to these challenges and how some industry leaders are using big data to assist them in overcoming these challenges.

 

[1] “Our Mission.” Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/mission

[2] The Trucker News Staff. “Winter Storms Prompt FMCSA to Issue Emergency Declaration for 33 states, DC.” The Trucker, 19 Feb. 2021, https://www.thetrucker.com/trucking-news/the-nation/winter-storm-emergency-prompts-fmcsa-to-issue-emergency-declaration-for-33-states-dc

[3] Id.

[4] “How Do Weather Events Impact Roads?, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/weather/q1_roadimpact.htm

[5] Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Office of Freight Management and Operations, 2008, https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight/freight_analysis/freight_story/major.htm

[6] Sean Kilcarr 1, “Mitigating the Weather’s Impact on Trucking.” FleetOwner, 8 Nov. 2016, https://www.fleetowner.com/industry-perspectives/trucks-at-work/article/21694803/mitigating-the-weaters-impact-on-trucking

[7] Craig Robins, “Why Big Data is so Important to the Transportation Industry.” Robins Consulting, 15 Mar. 2015, https://www.robinsconsulting.com/why-big-data-is-so-important/