Last week, I told my boss, attorney Michael Grossman, "I think I may have found the worst trucking company in Texas." It's a bold claim to make to a man who has litigated truck accident cases longer than I've been alive. However, when he looked through what I found, he couldn't help but agree that this might be the worst behavior he's seen by a trucking company in his 30+ years in the industry.
How bad does behavior have to be to surprise an attorney who has seen it all? Let's take a look.
A Company So Dangerous the Government Shut it Down
The company ended up on my radar when I saw that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an "imminent hazard order" for a Texas trucking company in early May of 2022. That means that FMCSA conducted an investigation and asserted that some aspects of the company, drivers, or operations were so dangerous, that the company needed to stop all operations immediately.
It's already quite rare for FMCSA to order a trucking company off the road. For the entire year, FMCSA has only declared four other Texas companies as "imminent hazards" this year. So it's fair to ask, how did a trucking company have so many safety violations that it merited this severe punishment, and also, what makes their violations stand out compared to the other companies taken off the road?
How Many Safety Violations Does it Take to Shut a Trucking Company Down? (Hint: A Lot)
Even before the imminent hazard order, FMCSA reported that this trucking company (emphasis added) "had almost double the national average vehicle out-of-service rate and over five times the national average driver out-of-service rate." Remarkably for a company with only 18 trucks and 18 drivers, they had 168 inspections during a 2-year period. So, FMCSA, working with state and local authorities, conducted inspections on this one company roughly 1 out of every 4 days.
Obviously, once a company starts racking up out-of-service orders, FMCSA's attention becomes more focused on it, leading to more inspections, but out-of-service orders don't cause a company to stop everything, rather they are just marks against the company.
In theory, through these inspections, a company is able to address any violations right away, tightening up any areas of oversight that may have become lax. Basically, an out-of-service order is like putting a child in timeout. The child does something wrong, they go to timeout, then after the timeout, they don't do the wrong behavior again.
However, similar to a petulant and stubborn toddler, this company had its trucks and drivers "put in timeout" repeatedly, only to immediately continue bad behaviors after being released from "timeout."
The number of investigations, coupled with poor performance, led regulators to look more closely at this troubled outfit.
What Does a Trucking Company Have to Do to Be Kicked Off the Road?
According to FMCSA's news report after their investigation, the company was found to be “egregiously noncompliant” with multiple federal safety regulations. The categories it failed to comply with are:
- "Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing,
- Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Standards,
- Driver Qualification,
- Unsafe Driving,
- Hours of Service of Drivers,
- and Vehicle Inspection, Repair, and Maintenance."
So a tiny company with a mere 18 trucks, allegedly had issues with drivers failing drug tests, drivers who weren't licensed to drive commercial vehicles in the first place, drivers with bad records, and on top of all that the drivers were either not tracking their hours properly or were driving too many hours. Oh, and they were doing all of this in poorly maintained trucks. Sounds like a safe outfit to me (tongue firmly planted in cheek).
Breaking Even One Rule Is an Issue, Let Alone Six
When safe trucking companies find themselves dinged by even one out-of-service violation, they usually take some measures to prevent it from occurring again. For instance, if a driver isn't keeping proper logs, a company would punish the driver, while examining its procedures to ensure that there isn't a systemic issue.
I don't want to come across as if I have more information than I actually do. For the sake of transparency, I have to admit that the publicly available documents about this company don't allow us to make definitive conclusions. However, when a trucking company appears to have issues with not one, but all of the regulations that govern the industry it's difficult not to conclude, as federal regulators did, that it had absolutely no regard for safety. Perhaps this is merely dozens of misunderstandings, but that sure strikes me as a long-shot possibility.
1/3 of This Company's Drivers Were Prohibited from Operating Commercial Vehicles
Shockingly, FMCSA claimed that this company allowed "six drivers who were already prohibited in the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse to operate on its behalf." This allegation means that the company owners knowingly hired and employed drivers FMCSA had already investigated and forbidden from operating commercial motor vehicles (CMV).
Next, FMCSA alleged that the company had twice before had its drivers cited for driving under the influence, and had three times before had its drivers cited for on-duty possession of drugs or alcohol. All of this for a company that only employed 18 drivers. That means 1 out of every 3 drivers at this outfit were already banned from getting behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler.
This isn't just an academic concern. FMCSA's records show that over the last 24 months, this company has been in 7 crashes. To be clear the FMCSA data does not assign who was at fault for the crashes, but 7 crashes in under two years with only 18 trucks and drivers is either a sign of problems with the company or incredibly bad luck. I'll leave it to you to decide which is more likely.
According to Regulators, This Trucking Company Was Completely Out of Control
How does such a small trucking company end up with so many issues? The government complaint may provide answers as regulators allege that management did not have:
- any system in place to monitor or deter its drivers' use of controlled substances,
- an effective program to ensure all of its drivers have the proper licensing,
- oversight to monitor or control its drivers' hours of service,
- and did not have a program to ensure all fleet vehicles were being inspected and repaired correctly.
Authorities allege that these failures meant that the company was unable to fully identify all of the drivers under its authority, failed to ensure its drivers were eligible for commercial trucking, and it was unaware that its drivers had hauled hazardous materials (itself a shocking allegation that for the sake of brevity, I can only touch on in passing. It is completely believable that explosives, chemicals, or some other hazardous materials just sometimes end up on your trucks without your knowledge, right?).
It makes complete sense that if an owner of a trucking company allows and does not actively prevent bad behavior, that bad truck drivers would naturally choose employment with said owner.
Still, to have the imminent hazard removed to continue its operations, the company needs only correct the violations and meet FMCSA's required remedies. Simple right?
Usually, a Trucking Company Losing Its Ability to Operate Is the End of the Story—Not Here
Let's leave aside for a second whether or not a company like this even deserved a second chance and put ourselves in the owner's shoes. The federal government puts a choice to you; fix your dangerous, broken operation or shut down your business. What do you choose?
If you're in the running for the "Most Dangerous Trucking Company in Texas" award, instead of addressing your dangerous driving and operation practices, you switch to doing business through a front company.
Don't just take my word for it. Only three weeks after issuing the "imminent hazard order," FMCSA's regulators had to issue another "imminent hazard order" to a different trucking company that allegedly "used common ownership, common management, common control, and/or common familial relationship" as a means for the first company ordered off the road "to avoid [an] imminent hazard order." What they did was akin to a criminal trying to avoid a charge by changing their name.
In short, a company, allegedly so poorly run and dangerous that the government shut it down, kept running for a few more weeks until regulators picked up on the alleged scam.
All of this is why Jaypur Logistics LLC makes a strong case that it could be "the worst trucking company in Texas."
Can We Really Stop Bad Companies?
While behavior like what I've discussed above is an exception, it can not be described as uncommon. An industry publication wrote earlier this year that "1,100 new transportation companies" created this year alone could be these so-called "chameleon carriers," which are companies set up for the sole purpose of dodging FMCSA fines and imminent hazard orders.
Of course, all of this only talks about the worst of the worse. It is not that all other trucking companies are never breaking federal regulations. Nationally, inspectors report a safety issue for every 1 in 5 trucks that is serious enough for an out-of-service order, and they also place 1 in 20 drivers out-of-service for breaking some rule or another. However, these are the trucks and drivers in companies that address the reported issues and avoid receiving federal orders to cease operations.
While regulators can catch the worst of the worst (after they fail half their inspections over a two-year period) and keep other dangerous operators from becoming too dangerous, regulators don't have the resources or tools to actually make our roads safe.
Bad Trucking Companies Only Understand Money—And Losing It
Some people assume that firms, like Grossman Law Offices, are out to make truckers' lives miserable, but nothing can be further from the truth. Here's how we see it. A company doesn't have to be the "worst trucking company in Texas" to screw up and kill or injure someone. That's why the most substantial penalty that the vast majority of dangerous trucking companies face isn't a government fine. Instead, it is when victims take action to hold those companies accountable via lawsuits. The chance of going to court and paying the full cost of a crash's damage is the most powerful incentive many companies have to do the right thing.
Now don't get us wrong, we are glad the government did what it could to get this company off the road. However, for those who believe that we can rely on the regulators to keep our highways safe, "the most dangerous trucking company in Texas" illustrates just how much time that takes, and potentially how much damage can occur while that process plays out.