According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, truck occupant fatalities rose for the third year in a row in 2012. Passenger vehicle occupants are also often killed in truck accidents, as a small car is no match for a large truck.
For these reasons, federal officials have been cracking down on safety in the trucking industry. One way they have been doing this is by punishing trucking companies that violate driver safety regulations.
In an example of this, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently punished a large trucking company based on the West Coast for retaliating against a driver who refused to stay on the road when he was too sick to drive.
Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. reportedly suspended and then fired a commercial truck driver who said he would not work because he was sick and taking a prescribed narcotic for a cough.
Under federal rules regulating the trucking industry, commercial drivers cannot operate vehicles when their ability or alertness is impaired by fatigue or illness. Commercial drivers are protected from retaliation for refusing to break this rule and others by the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.
"A company cannot place its attendance policies ahead of the safety of its drivers and that of the public," said the acting regional administrator of OSHA in Seattle in a statement.
In addition to facing punishment from OSHA, trucking companies that refuse to follow driver safety rules put themselves at risk of liability in personal injury lawsuits if drivers are involved in serious accidents while breaking the rules.