Crash Forensics provides expert analysis of truck maintenance defects and truck maintenance regulatory/standard of care compliance. Defect testing and failure analysis services can be conducted on site from our mobile lab or in-house in our automotive lab. Our mobile lab is a Class 6 International truck fully equipped with all the necessary tools and test equipment allowing us to inspect and test anything related to vehicles. We are sensitive to concerns that the vehicle's post-crash condition could be altered during testing. Therefore, the testing we perform is structured in a way that allows us to obtain results without altering the condition of the suspect system. Below is a brief discussion of truck maintenance. Link to our automotive expert.
Truck crashes are commonly caused by mechanical failures. Most of these failures are not spontaneous, but progressive, and stem from maintenance deficiencies. Some examples of maintenance deficiencies that cause truck crashes are braking defects caused by oil-contaminated brakes, braking defects caused by brakes that are out of adjustment, tire failures from tires that are run under-inflated or over-loaded, wheel separations caused by wheels and hub assemblies that are improperly installed or maintained, and steering system components that are used and worn to the point where they separate and fail. The standard of care for maintaining and repairing trucks makes the motor carrier and its drivers responsible for keeping their trucks in a safe condition at all times. Since progressive failures can be identified, allegations of mechanical failure are really an admission of motor carrier and/or driver failure rather than an excuse for a truck crash.
The minimum standard of care for truck maintenance is established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) §396. A widespread misconception is that §396 only requires a Periodic Maintenance Inspection (PMI) every 12 months for a truck and a Driver Vehicle Inspection (DVI) every day. In reality, §396 requires much more than this. For example, the standard to perform a PMI requires it to be done at least once during the preceding 12 months. In some operations where a truck is seldom used or only operated a few thousand miles a year, a 12-month PMI may be adequate. However, most truck operations will require more frequent PMI intervals.
The more important and widely overlooked maintenance standard comes from FMCSR §396.3. Section 396.3 is a performance standard that requires a motor carrier to have a maintenance system by stating "Every motor carrier shall systematically inspect, repair, and maintain all motor vehicles subject to its control." The goal for this required maintenance system is that all parts and accessories shall be in safe and proper operating conditions at all times. Since different trucking operations place varying mechanical demands on equipment, the PMI interval required to meet the goal of keeping a truck safe at all times is operationally specific. For example, a trucking company hauling heavy construction equipment that commonly operates trucks in off-road construction sites will likely require more frequent PMIs than a motor carrier using trucks in long-haul interstate operations.
Random inspection and repair of trucks does not meet the FMCSR maintenance standards. Therefore, a motor carrier needs to have a written policy outlining what their maintenance system is and that policy must be continuously reviewed to ensure that the maintenance system is keeping their trucks in safe condition. The basic elements of a maintenance system are outlined in FMCSR 396 and include DVIs and PMIs. However, the maintenance system should also have checks and balances built into it since drivers and mechanics will commonly pencil whip truck inspections.
A good maintenance system will not only uncover deficiencies in the vehicle, but also deficiencies in the maintenance system itself. For example, if DVIs are being done properly, then a PMI should only find defects that could not be found by a DVI. So, if a truck PMI finds defects that should have been identified by a DVI, the maintenance system should specify remedial action for the driver who either does not understand how to properly inspect his truck or does not inspect it at all. As another example, if PMIs are finding a large number of defects, then PMIs need to be done more frequently. When a truck has a breakdown or is cited for a violation during a law enforcement inspection, the maintenance system should specify a procedure for determining how the truck got into its defective condition so remedial steps can be taken to prevent it and other trucks from being in that condition again.
Pencil whipped inspections are largely a result of pay structures that lack incentives to encourage proper inspections. A good maintenance system should address these compensation issues and include incentives for drivers and mechanics so that pencil whipping is discouraged. Drivers, more often than not, are paid by the mile and receive no compensation for DVIs. Furthermore, if a driver identifies a defect with his truck then he may lose his compensation while the truck is out of service. Motor carriers should provide drivers with breakdown pay and safety bonuses for finding and reporting mechanical problems with their truck.
Mechanics, more often than not, are paid a "flat rate" for their work. This means the mechanic gets paid a specified number of hours for a job regardless of how long it takes. We are commonly reviewing PMI records showing that the flat rate paid by motor carriers to their mechanics is around two tenths of an hour (12 minutes) for a PMI that should take one to two hours to perform properly. These mechanics were being paid $15 to $20 for a flat-rate hour, or stated differently, they were only being paid three to four dollars to do a one to two hour inspection. A motor carrier would have to be delusional to think they are getting anything more than a pencil whipped PMI report for four dollars. So motor carriers need to provide their mechanics sufficient time to perform a complete inspection and also ensure that their mechanics are spending that time inspecting their trucks.