To some, the idea of working in an office setting is unthinkable. They’d much rather have a job that provides options, flexibility in setting their own hours, and the thrill of not always knowing what the next day will hold. One job that is attractive to many people who seek this is a commercial truck driver. It’s a career that offers a unique work environment and the freedom of the open road.
Make no mistake about it though, being a truck driver is not easy. It comes with a lot of responsibilities and duties to uphold and a lot of rules and regulations to follow. Since trucks are so much larger and heavier than passenger cars, the damage that could be caused by a truck accident is exponentially more than that which results from a typical automobile accident.
Because of this, both individual state organizations and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have put countless laws into effect that are designed to protect trucking companies, truck drivers, and the general public.
Safety Reviews and Ratings
To better understand trucking regulations, it helps to have a knowledge of the different kinds of procedures that are in place for avoiding truck accidents. There are all sorts of measures in place and steps that must be taken before a truck can be considered ready for the road, and those measures start with reviews:
- Compliance Reviews are on-site examinations of the trucking company’s operations. They’re conducted under a number of circumstances, including when a new law is passed, when the trucking company is suspected of a safety violation, and in response to complaints regarding safety. These reviews typically go over things like: hours driven, maintenance, driver qualification, hazardous materials, and commercial drivers license requirements.
- Safety Audits are conducted to provide the trucking company with an opportunity for education and technical assistance regarding safety requirements. They are also used to gather the data needed to analyze a specific motor carrier’s safety record and overall performance.
- Safety Management Controls refer to the systems, policies, programs, practices, and procedures put in place by the motor carrier to meet compliance with state and federal regulations. These controls are designed to provide a safe way for products, hazardous or not, to travel and seek to reduce the number of accidents that can result from the transport of said products.
In addition to reviews, motor carriers and trucking companies are also given ratings that indicate their level of compliance with state and federal laws. These ratings are organized as follows:
- Satisfactory Safety Ratings are given to those companies who have functioning safety management controls in place that meet the standards required by law.
- Conditional Safety Ratings and Unsatisfactory Safety Ratings are both used when a carrier has not taken adequate measures to meet safety standards.
- Unrated Carriers are those companies which have not been given a safety rating by the FMCSA.
Trucking Laws, Rules, and Regulations
There are hundreds of laws in effect to help ensure safety when trucking companies carry their loads from one place to another. Some companies that only operate in one state need to adhere only to certain federal laws as well as their state’s specific laws. Other companies, who make their means by doing interstate shipping, must follow all federal regulations, as well as those established by the states in which they are based and are currently operating their vehicles.
These laws can be broken down by who they affect. Some are geared towards the trucking company itself, some towards the actual truck driver, and others still mandate requirements for the vehicles in a company’s fleet. For the purposes of this overview, we’ll take a look at a few of the more prevalent laws that affect each of these three groups.
Trucking Company Requirements
- Hazardous Materials: Trucking companies must make sure that hazardous materials are appropriately labeled, classed, described, packaged, marked, and are in the correct state to be shipped in compliance with federal laws.
- Drug and Alcohol Testing: The individuals running the company must routinely have their drivers submit to drug and alcohol testing.
- Time Off and Breaks: Those who manage the truck drivers have to give them the federally specified amount of time off duty. It is illegal for truck drivers to be forced to drive over their hourly limits or if they are too fatigued to travel safely.
- Insurance: All trucking companies must maintain the level of insurance that is mandated for their types of trucks and/or loads.
- Maintenance: Detailed records of maintenance must be kept and be able to be produced if needed. All trucks must be kept in good working condition to remain operational.
- Hiring: Trucking companies can only hire healthy, qualified, English-speaking drivers. They must also keep a record for each driver that contains their routes, a log of their hours, traffic violations, accidents, and drug screening test records.
Truck Driver Requirements
- Hours of Service: There are in-depth federal laws that outline how many consecutive hours a driver is allowed to complete. There are also rules regarding breaks, the length of breaks, sleep periods, and more.
- Logs: Truck drivers must keep a record that logs both their hours on the road and their time spent off of the road, on breaks, etc.
- Alcohol: The laws regarding driving under the influence are much stricter for truck drivers than the drivers of passenger vehicles. Truckers cannot consume intoxicated substances in the 8 hours before they are set to begin a trip and they cannot work if their BAC (blood alcohol content) is over 0.02%. They are also not allowed to carry alcohol in their vehicle unless it is part of their cargo.
- Licenses: No truck driver can have more than one commercial trucking license and that one must be issued in the driver’s home state.
- Training: Every truck driver must complete the necessary training and licensing courses, and be well-versed in the truck’s operation, maintenance, and overall safety.
- Loading: It is the duty of the driver to make sure that any and all cargo is properly loaded and secure prior to beginning their trip. The cargo must also be inspected once at 50 miles and again at 150 miles to ensure that any cargo that could potentially cause damage has not shifted or come lose.
- Physical Requirements: Every two years, truck drivers must pass a physical exam that proves that they are in a healthy enough state to adequately operate and control their vehicle and drive for long periods of time.
Trucking Vehicle Requirements
- Identification and Markings: Trucks must be marked in such a way that makes it clear that they are a commercial transport vehicle and must also display information regarding the kinds of goods they are transporting, their USDOT number, and information on hazmat materials.
- Securement: Cargo must be properly tied down and must be loaded and unloaded in the appropriate manner.
Truck Driver Liability
If you or a loved one has been in an accident involving a tractor-trailer, you may be wondering whether or not you can seek damages from the driver or the trucking company itself. The rules that have been put in place for truckers exist to prevent catastrophic injuries from occurring. If these rules are closely followed, it may help to limit the amount of liability the trucking company has in the event of an accident. There are two scenarios, however, in which the truck driver will not be held liable for an accident. These are:
Jackknifing: This is when a truck spins and stops in such a way that the trailer portion is at a 90-degree angle to the cab. A truck driver in this situation cannot legally be considered to be at fault, as this kind of accident can easily occur in the event that the driver has to break suddenly to avoid a pedestrian, stopped car, or other road hazard. It is in these particular jackknifing situations that the driver cannot be held liable.
Turning Accidents: Trucks have a large turning radius and often require two or more lanes to complete a turn safely. Based on the specifics of the situation, an accident occurring during a turn is not necessarily the driver’s fault.
Proving Liability and Fault in a Truck Accident
One of the top causes of trucking accidents is truck driver fatigue, with alcohol and substance abuse being a major concern as well. The real problems begin when truck drivers and their bosses do not adhere to the rules laid out by local and federal government bodies. If this is the case, the individuals in the passenger vehicles involved in accidents may be able to file a lawsuit against the negligent parties.
There is one piece of critical information which must be obtained in order for a lawsuit to have a chance at being successful, and that is the driver’s log book. The documents in this book contain valuable information on hours of service and maintenance, among other things, and are crucial to determining who is at fault for the accident. These logs must be kept by the trucking company for a minimum of six months but can legally be destroyed after that time. This log is a crucial piece of evidence, and its destruction could render your claim invalid. It is imperative that it is obtained prior to the destruction date.
If you or a family member or friend is ever involved in a truck accident, contact a Charlotte trucking accident attorney at the Law Offices of Michael A. DeMayo Mayo, L.L.P. ® immediately and we can help you through this trying process. Call 877-529-1222 to schedule your free initial consultation today.