Trucking is one of the most highly regulated industries in America. Federal regulations govern interstate commercial trucking, or trucking that involves going between states, while state regulations govern intrastate trucking, which takes place entirely within one state. However, most states have adopted regulations which largely mirror the federal rules.
WHAT LAWS APPLY TO TRUCK DRIVERS TO PREVENT ACCIDENTS?
The goal of these regulations is to prevent catastrophic and deadly crashes. For that reason, when we investigate truck accidents on behalf of injured clients in Memphis and surrounding areas in Tennessee and Mississippi, we closely examine whether truck drivers and trucking companies broke the rules which govern them.
Our goal in truck accident personal injury or wrongful death claims is to establish that a defendant’s negligence led to the accident and injuries and, due to that negligence, our clients deserve compensation. Violations of trucking regulations often serve as evidence of negligence in those claims.
Here, because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the lead federal agency responsible for regulating and providing safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), including large trucks and passenger buses, we examine a few of the most commonly violated FMCSA regulations.
RESTRICTIONS ON MOBILE PHONE USE
Distracted driving can be highly dangerous – especially when the driver is behind the wheel of a massive 18-wheeler. The FMCSA prohibits truck drivers from holding a mobile device, or cell phone, in order to make a call. The agency also bans dialing by pressing more than a single button.
Drivers who use a phone while driving can use only a hands-free phone which is located in close proximity. “Drivers are not in compliance if they unsafely reach for a mobile phone, even if they intend to use the hands-free function,” the FMCSA says. A driver using a phone must do so while in the seated driving position and while properly restrained by a seat belt.
Commercial motor vehicle drivers are also specifically prohibited from texting while driving, including manually entering text into, or reading text from, any electronic device. Additionally, motor carriers are prohibited from requiring or allowing their drivers to engage in texting while driving.
If contacted quickly after a truck accident, your lawyer can ask the court to order the driver, motor carrier and other parties to preserve potential evidence, including phone records. Those records may indicate illegal phone use at the time of the crash.
HOURS OF SERVICE
Time behind the wheel represents money to trucking companies. So, they want their big rigs to roll as often as possible. However, the FMCSA’s hours of service (HOS) regulations define strict limits on truckers’ time behind the wheel and set requirements for the lengths of breaks between driving shifts. The FMCSA updated these rules in 2011 after years of debate, intense lobbying and court fights.
The problem is that truck drivers eventually get too fatigued to drive safely. Whether they are driving on their own decision or because of an employer’s pressure, a fatigued driver is likely violating the law and more likely to cause a crash. In fact, FMCSA statistics show that 13 percent of CMV drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their crash.
It is less expensive for companies to hire less-qualified drivers. As a result, some motor carriers cut corners when hiring. This also makes these less-safe drivers more susceptible to employer pressure to skirt rules and regulations and, in turn, cause crashes.
To address this issue, the FMCSA has established requirements for the commercial driver’s license (CDL) a truck driver must hold. The agency also requires trucking companies to keep a variety of information on file about each driver it employs. For example, a driver qualification file must include the driver’s:
- Application for employment.
- Driving records for the previous three years
- Annual inquiry and review of driving record
- Annual certification of violations and annual review
- Road test and certificate (or the equivalent to the road test)
- Medical examiner’s certificate.
REQUIRED TRUCK PARTS AND EQUIPMENT
A “big rig” tractor trailer is a large and complex piece of machinery. The FMCSA regulates each and every component on a commercial truck, including required parts and how and when the truck should be maintained.
For example, Part § 393.11 of FMCSA code includes a table that specifies the requirements for lights (or “lamps”), reflective devices and associated pieces of equipment by the type of commercial motor vehicle. The rule features 18 diagrams which illustrate the proper position of the lamps, reflective devices and associated equipment specified on different types of trucks.
Other FMCSA regulations address:
- Vehicle size and weight limits
- Brake systems
- Wiring systems
- Exhaust systems
- Coupling devices
- Fuel systems
- Seats and seat belt assemblies
- Cargo loading and securing
- Special requirements for hazard waste transportation.
Trucking companies are responsible for ensuring the trucks they put on the road are up to code, while drivers are responsible for inspecting their vehicles every time they get into them to drive. These inspections must be documented.
MANDATORY DRUG AND ALCOHOL TESTING
Truck drivers must pass drug and alcohol tests before they are employed. They must also undergo drug and alcohol tests after most accidents. Drivers must also go through random testing throughout the year. Additionally, drivers who appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be immediately tested. Employers must train driver supervisors to detect the symptoms of driver impairment.
Tests search for the presence of:
- Opiates (opium and codeine derivatives)
- Amphetamines and methamphetamines
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
- 0.02 blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) or greater.
Employers must keep the results of these tests on file. The absence of test results in the driver’s file indicates a negligent motor carrier and may serve as grounds for an employer’s liability if a truck accident is found to have been caused by a trucker’s drug or alcohol impairment.
HOLDING TRUCK DRIVERS AND MOTOR CARRIERS LIABLE FOR ACCIDENTS
Employers typically can be held responsible for the actions of employees which occur while they are on the job. This certainly applies to motor carriers who put truck drivers on the road. Truck companies can also be liable for their own misconduct such as negligent hiring and supervision. This is why many truck accident lawsuits name the trucking company as a defendant along with the truck driver.
Trucking companies are required by law to maintain liability insurance for their vehicles and drivers – just as car owners are. Because the amount of coverage required is far higher than for standard passenger vehicles, more money is available through a motor carrier to compensate truck accident victims. However, with so much more to lose, there is much more reason for them to fight your truck accident claim.
CONTACT US ABOUT A TENNESSEE OR MISSISSIPPI TRUCK ACCIDENT
Contact a law firm with the resources and legal knowledge needed to seek justice and full compensation for you after a truck accident. Contact us online today and schedule a free consultation about your case.