The American Association for Justice -- also known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America -- says it analyzed data obtained through the Motor Carrier Management Information System, which is maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. It found that more than 28,000 motor carrier companies have violated federal safety regulations, operating over 200,000 trucks.
In a memo to its Communication Group members, ATA notes that the AAJ study "appears to be an attempt to scare citizens into suing motor carriers." Along with the statistics, the release sent to reporters contains sensational quotes such as this one: "As millions of American families pack-up to hit the road for the Labor Day holiday, most are completely unaware they share the road with trucks that are 'rigged for disaster'," said AAJ President Anthony Tarricone.
"Commuters are sharing roads with trucks that have incurred thousands of safety violations - such as defective brakes, bald tires, loads that dangerously exceed weight limits and drivers with little or no training or drug and alcohol dependencies," the lawyers' group said in the release.
The ATA quickly put out its own news release, pointing out that the truck-involved fatality rate is now at its lowest since the U.S. Department of Transportation began keeping those statistics in 1975.
The trucking group also notes that results from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance's Roadcheck 2009, the largest targeted enforcement program on commercial vehicles in the world, show nationwide improvements and the highest compliance rates ever for the NAS Level I inspections -- the most comprehensive roadside inspection.
The lawyers' release says that although trucks make up less than 4 percent of all passenger vehicles on U.S. roads, they are involved in 12 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities.
But ATA points out that the overwhelming majority of fatal truck-involved crashes are caused by passenger vehicles. According to a 2002 study by the American Association of Automobiles, 80 percent of fatal truck-involved crashes are caused by passenger vehicles. A 2006 Virginia Tech analysis of two studies conducted for the Department of Transportation found that 78 percent of crashes were caused by passenger car drivers.
ATA this year unveiled an aggressive 18-point safety agenda to further reduce the number of highway-related fatalities and injuries for all drivers on the nation's highways. ATA's policies include promoting greater safety belt use by commercial drivers; re-instituting a national maximum speed limit for all vehicles; improved truck crashworthiness standards; electronic speed governing of all large trucks; tax incentives for safety technologies; and a decade-long initiative to create a national clearinghouse for drug and alcohol test results.
Editor's Note: This story has been revised from its original version to provide additional information about the AAJ.