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2 Investigators: Some Trucking Firms On Federal Watch List For Safety Violations

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(CBS) – Nationally,  the number of people injured or killed in large truck crashes is on the rise.

Now the 2 Investigators have learned that 2,500 trucking companies in Illinois are on a so-called federal watch list because of their record of safety violations.

One serious safety category has caused some of the worst crashes in the Chicago area.  The issue is fatigued driving:  truckers who violate federal regulations that limit the hours they can stay on the road without a break.

Instead, they just keep trucking with horrific consequences.

An apparently fatigued driver with DND International is charged with causing a crash that killed state tollway worker Vincent Petrella and injured state trooper Douglas Balder earlier this year.

The same cause is responsible for a United Van Lines crash that killed State Trooper James Sauter on the Tri-State Tollway back in March of 2013, and another crash that crushed a car between two trucks, killing Mary Maher on Interstate 80 in May 2011.

“This is a systemic problem in the trucking industry that is wreaking havoc on roads across America every single day,” says Maher’s family attorney, Robert Clifford.

The Maher family has filed a lawsuit charging the truck driver involved in the crash “failed to reduce his speed, or have adequate brakes and falsified driving records to conceal he was possibly impaired by fatigue.”

“How dare you kill my mom and take her from me,” Jacque Kaminski says.

Studies show about 55 percent of the truck drivers are paid by the miles they drive, creating incentives for them to stay on the road for longer periods of time than regulations allow.

“When we pay them by the mile, as opposed to by the hour, we give them every reason in the world to try and cover more ground,” Clifford says.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration tracks the safety records of more than half a million interstate trucking companies.  But it lacks the resources to keep tabs on them all.

So, they use a computer management system to alert inspectors about companies with excessive violations in one of five critical categories, including unsafe driving, hours of service, driver fitness and vehicle maintenance.

“Those alerts would come up and then we would pull them back for a roadside inspection,”  Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Todd Armstrong says.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration watch list includes 184 Illinois trucking companies that performed poorly in three of the five critical categories and 26 companies that performed poorly in four of the five categories.

The companies with the most trucks on the list are: Fore Transportation in Harvey; CDN Logistics in Northlake; U.S. Freightways Logistics in Elk Grove Village; Triple D Express in Elgin and J F Freight Company in Palatine.

Armstrong says it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the 2,500 Illinois trucking companies on the federal watch list.

“Obviously we are way understaffed,” Armstrong says.  “Yes,there’s technology, but nothing beats an actual body in the position to do those inspections.”

To cut down on crashes caused by driver fatigue, federal authorities are now proposing a new rule that would require drivers to log their hours electronically.

“Driver fatigue is what is killing troopers. It’s what is killing people on the roadway right now,” Armstrong says. “Any tool we put in our toolbox is going to help us find unsafe commercial vehicles.”

Fore Transportation says it’s not unsafe. It has successfully challenged many state violations and has passed the last four federal truck inspections.

Triple D. Express says it watches its drivers very closely and has been trying to correct problems.

The other three trucking companies on the watch list did not respond to CBS 2’s calls.

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