The trucking industry faces many challenges, including the fact that most long-haul commercial truck drivers don’t stay on the job very long. Because of this turnover, many companies rely on inexperienced drivers and those with poor driving records. Amazon relies on trucking companies that bend the rules and are less safe than the industry average.
Amazon has bought or leased about 63,000 trailers since 2015. Outside companies drove them about 1.5 million miles in August. Steve DasGupta, Amazon’s freight unit safety director, told the Wall Street Journal that about 50,000 trucking companies rotate through its network.
The Journal article illustrates the problems with the trucks and drivers it hires:
- A driver, later convicted of driving while intoxicated, was found with a crack pipe after driving the truck into a ditch.
- A driver was in a fatal accident after losing control of his truck while braking. It happened two months after the trucking company ignored a police order to repair the truck’s brakes
- Another driver was involved in two accidents in a single trip between warehouses. The second involved crossing a highway and hitting another truck head-on, killing the other driver
All three companies involved received unsafe driving scores from the US Transportation Department (DOT). These scores are an industry standard for assessing trucker safety. From February 2020 to early August 2022, more than 1,300 Amazon trucking contractors had scores worse than the level where the agency normally takes action against a company.
Amazon Needs Freight Shipped and Isn’t Always Picky About Who’s Hired for the Work
As Amazon ramped up its freight effort due to the COVID-19 pandemic boom in online shopping, it used trucking contractors with repeat safety violations. Trucking contractors frequently working for Amazon were more than twice as likely as similar companies to have unsafe driving scores.
More than 75 people were killed by trucking companies hired by Amazon since 2015. Amazon claims this is less than the industry average for fatalities per vehicle mile. Amazon states the three companies involved in the above accidents are suspended.
The company states it’s changed its trucking contractor screening process. Now 96.5% met Amazon’s internal acceptable safety scores, which is more stringent than DOT’s. The company claims in September only 1% of its trucking network fell short of its standards.
The Numbers Tell a Grim Story Amazon Doesn’t Want to Talk About
The Journal looked at 3,512 trucking companies that authorities inspected three or more times while hauling Amazon trailers since February 2020. They carried 75% of Amazon tractor-trailer shipments documented in government inspections.
Among this group, the DOT scores of 388 ranked in the worst 5% of their peers. These bottom-of-the-barrel truckers were twice as likely as others to be involved in a crash while working for Amazon.
According to the Journal,
‘The data show companies that “frequently haul Amazon’s freight are systematically more likely to have poor driving safety scores,” said Jason Miller, a Michigan State University professor who studies transportation safety and validated the Journal’s methodology and findings. The result, he said, is that “American motorists are put at greater risk.”’
Not surprisingly, Amazon would disagree with that conclusion.
Amazon Sets Safety Rules It Doesn’t Follow
Government records show that 48 companies with conditional ratings were hired by Amazon since early 2020, violating the company’s own rules. The company claimed it suspended 39 of them and had no record of working with the other eight.
Companies continued hauling Amazon freight after their scores became worse than Amazon’s internal standard. One problem Amazon has is companies with good safety ratings will book loads that are actually driven by companies suspended by Amazon.
To put Amazon’s safety issues in perspective, United Parcel Service (UPS) truck drivers since early 2020 have been cited by state inspectors and police for keeping false driving hour logs (meant to document that drivers get required rest breaks) in less than one in a thousand inspections. Amazon contractors violated this requirement at a rate about 70 times higher than UPS drivers.
How Does This Play Out in Court?
After being sued by victims of crashes involving trucks hauling Amazon freight, the company’s defense is it’s not its job to oversee its contractors’ safety on the road. They will blame the trucking company and possibly the victim if they drove the car involved in the crash. Plaintiffs will argue Amazon knew its contractor was unsafe or should’ve known it, but continued to hire it, putting others on the road in danger.
Take the Next Step. Call Tyler Fleck
If you or a loved one are injured or killed in an accident involving a commercial truck, contact The Fleck Firm today for a free consultation by calling us at (270) 446-7000. We’ll talk about what happened, your injuries, the law, and your best options to proceed. Insurance companies have lawyers. You should have one too.