NTSB hopes threat of higher insurance rates stop unsafe truckers

Federal safety officials hope blowing the whistle on unsafe trucking companies to their insurance companies could prevent tragedies such as an I-88 crash near Naperville that killed a father of two.

National Transportation Safety Board members meeting Tuesday concluded that fatigue caused trucker Renato Velasquez of Hanover Park to collide his semitrailer into an Illinois State Police squad car and Illinois tollway help truck on Jan. 27, 2014.

Tollway worker Vincent Petrella of Wheeling was killed and Trooper Douglas Balder was seriously injured and burned. The two had pulled over to assist a broken-down truck on the eastbound Reagan Memorial Tollway with emergency lights activated and a warning arrow flashing.

The trucking company, DND International of Naperville, was on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's radar because of violations involving unsafe drivers and driver hours of service.

But a lack of resources and red tape prevented the FMCSA from intervening to suspend the trucking company, administrators said. For example, it takes 12 months to schedule a compliance review.

When regulators moved to discipline DND, the company appealed. DND's insurers raised its rates, however, and the company went out of business.

NTSB officials moved to develop a program to notify insurance carriers when a trucking company is considered a high risk. The intent is that insurance companies could force unsafe truckers to mend their ways by increasing rates.

Officials said Velasquez, who had slept less than four hours in 37 hours at the time of the crash, falsified his work logs, and DND was not overseeing those records.

Valasquez was convicted of operating a commercial motor vehicle while under the impairment of fatigue and sentenced to three years in prison.

NTSB board members also pointed out the owner of the disabled truck, Michael's Cartage of Bridgeview, also was considered an at-risk company. Michael's Cartage was under scrutiny by the FMCSA for violations involving unsafe driving, driver fitness, vehicle maintenance and driver hours, the NTSB reported.

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