“There is just no way an operator should be telling any driver what to put in his log book. I am shocked by his behavior. This is such a no-no,” said Glenn Every, an attorney and president of Tonche Transit of Mount Tremper, New York.
The repercussions from such an egregious violation could put a carrier out of business, insurance executives said.
In May, a Texas jury ordered two Texas trucking operators and their three companies to pay driver Lauro Lozano Jr. $80 million in damages. The jury agreed with his claim that he was ordered to falsify his paper logs and embark on a trip without his required rest period. Lozano fell asleep at the wheel during the trip and struck another truck, suffering disabling and disfiguring injuries.
The jury approved the large award because it “specifically wanted to get the attention of all commercial motor carriers and remind them of the importance of the safety rules,” Lozano’s attorney said.
“This is a very dangerous way of thinking because accidents do happen. If an accident happens, this kind of stuff will come out,” Every said.
Lozano’s crash occurred in 2015, before electronic logging devices were mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
ELDs change game
“With ELDs, log falsification is probably possible but more difficult,” said Bob Crescenzo, vice president of safety and loss control at Lancer Insurance in Long Beach, New York. “Falsifying logs is a pretty serious issue on any level, particularly if there is a claim.”
A motor carrier caught committing such offenses faces more than regulatory and civil penalties, he said. “When we do an investigation assessment, we always are going to look at hours of service. If they were less than honest in their logs, that has an impact on their claim.”
Pushing the limits on hours-of-service regulations was probably more prevalent among truckers during the era of paper log books, Every said. “Before electronic logging it probably was more widespread because these guys had incentives to move freight as far as they could in a single day, because of the way they were paid.”
A carrier with a history of hours-of-service violations may find itself insurable at only great—possibly unaffordable—cost, said Michelle Wiltgen, assistant vice president and national marketing manager at National Interstate Insurance Company in Richfield, Ohio.
“When things like that happen, that tells me all I need to know about the risk and safety culture of that business. We would stay as far away from that company as possible,” she said.
Passenger carrier insurers are becoming more selective, she continued, adding that the market is tightening, and companies without a good safety record or with adverse loss experience are being rejected for coverage.
“Our cargo is humans,” she said. “There could be 55 humans on a bus. A trucking company doesn’t have anybody who grieves or has broken bones or can sue after an accident. An insurance company that sees significant loss activity is not going to get in line to insure that carrier.”
Carriers that cannot obtain sufficient coverage from commercial insurers will be relegated to their state’s assigned risk program, Wiltgen said. Securing sufficient coverage limits “will be more expensive than they can imagine. They will be weeded out for poor safety practices. I have had several conversations with companies that we have declined to write because of their loss activity. They get mad at me and they don’t like it.”
An entrenched safety culture can protect a motor carrier should a major claim arise.
“Bad things happen to good companies, and we will stand by those companies,” Wiltgen said. “We have had companies that have had fatalities but we still insure them because we think their safety culture is stable and they pay attention to it.”