A company wants to cut costs and boost profits by ignoring good safety practices. As a result, people are seriously injured and killed. As long as there have been businesses, this story repeats over and over. The US Post Office’s use of trucking companies indifferent to the safety of others is one of the newer chapters.
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) faces stiff competition from United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) and FedEx Corp. for package delivery. To cut costs and be more competitive, instead of just using their drivers and trucks, they also hire outside trucking companies at bargain basement prices, requires them to meet aggressive schedules and, at least in the past, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), ignored the fact they violated highway safety rules.
USPS Saves Money By Hiring Contractors Too Dangerous for Others to Use
WSJ reports that postal contractors hauling mail have were involved in at least 68 fatal crashes killing 79 people in the last three years. Almost 50 long-haul trucking companies hired by the USPS had safety records so bad that the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) put them on probation.
If that happens, most trucking company clients will stop using the company and turn to safer alternatives. That’s not the case with the USPS. Their contracting manual states a trucking contractor must have a DOT safety rating better than “unsatisfactory” to maintain their business. If a trucking company rates “unsatisfactory,” the DOT will shut them down, and they won’t be doing business with anyone.
Following Federal Safety Rules Is Not USPS’ Concern
Some common DOT rule violations concern preventing fatigue by limiting drivers’ time on the road. More than a third (about 39%) of the companies hauling mail broke those and related rules. That’s three times the percentage (13%) of all trucking companies inspected during the same time frame. That shouldn’t surprise USPS because the routes and deadlines they set up for contractors practically require drivers to violate these rules unless two drivers take turns driving.
One route, according to the WSJ, requires a contractor to leave Salt Lake City with a load of mail at 3:30 a.m. and arrive in San Francisco at 5:30 p.m. the same day (15 hours later, given the time zone change). That’s greater than the 11 hours of driving allowed under DOT safety rules and an hour longer than the 14-hour limit for overall driver work time, including loading and stops.
WSJ states one of USPS’ biggest vendors, from 2017 to 2022, broke these rules more than 200 times. The Postal Service paid them more than $115 million in 2021.
USPS states it plans to change its contracting process later this year, and contractors will need to meet specific DOT requirements, including for safety and maintenance, to get work. The Postal Service claims they will monitor their performance.
Massive Amounts of Cargo Shipped With Little Oversight of Trucking Companies
The USPS spends about $5 billion yearly on trucking contracts, making them one of the nation’s biggest shippers. USPS contract officers must award business to vendors offering the “best value.” Contracts can last several years and often lag behind market prices (payments can run about 15% to 20% below standard industry rates).
That helps the USPS save money, but to keep operating despite low payments, contractors may ignore safety rules and make as much money as possible. USPS’ inspector general in 2016 said the agency employed only 18 contract officers to oversee its $5 billion/year commercial trucker network, which comes to about four hours of annual oversight work per contract.
Distracted Truck Driver Without the Correct License Rear Ends Vehicle, Kills Five
Last June, a truck operated by a Postal Service contractor, Carminantes Trucking of Long Beach, California, slammed into a vehicle as it slowed in traffic on Interstate 25 near Denver. Five people in the car, including an infant, were killed. Police records state the driver was distracted and lacked a valid commercial driver’s license. DOT records show Carminantes has a history of similar violations over the past ten years when it worked for the USPS.
In February, USPS announced it would end its contracts with the company after a Colorado TV station reported the driver lacked a proper license. Public trucking inspection records show the Colorado crash was at least the 16th time Caminantes’ truckers were found to lack a commercial driver’s license since 2017 and the second time that week. The truck driver was arrested and faces five counts of vehicular homicide.
Are You Injured Because of a Commercial Truck Accident?
If you have questions about compensation for your injuries and how your rights can be protected, contact The Fleck Firm at (270) 446-7000 to schedule a free consultation. We’ll talk about what happened, how Kentucky law may apply, and your best options. Insurance companies have lawyers. You should have one too.