Legal Guide

Which Laws and Regulations Make Truck Accidents Unique?

Quite a few laws govern the trucking industry. It’s one of the most regulated over-regulated) businesses in the U.S. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) – establishes and enforces these regulations. On top of that, many states have additional regulations which mostly surround commercial driver’s license issuance and renewal, liability insurance coverage, intoxication laws, etc.

All of these laws and regulations affect truck drivers, the companies they work for, and also those in other vehicles when they are involved in an accident with a commercial truck. A few of these rules and regulations are explored below.

  • Commercial Driver's License (CDL): There are several rules regarding who is eligible to obtain a CDL even though it’s the states that issue them. For example, for a driver to obtain a CDL, they must pass DOT-approved minimum driving skills and written knowledge tests. Any person who operates a commercial motor vehicle that meets certain guidelines (like weight, a minimum size or, in the case of a bus, ability to transport a certain number of passengers) must hold a valid, state-issued, CDL. Truck drivers must also pass a physical exam every two years; otherwise they cannot drive a commercial truck.

There are also several types of DOT certification which commercial truck drivers must receive to transport specialized loads such as hazardous materials (HAZMAT), oversized loads (e.g., giant cranes), refrigerated goods, and highly-flammable or combustible materials, to name a few.

  • Hours of Service: One of the most contentious issues in the trucking industry is truck driver fatigue. This has been the cause of too many crashes. The FMCA works to aggressively curb this problem by closely monitoring driver hours of service (HOS), governed by regulations which clearly state how long drivers can drive each day. HOS laws have been around for more than 70 years.

To that end, the industry is turning to computer-operated electronic logging devices (ELDs) to monitor driver time behind the wheel. Federal regulators say ELDs will ensure that truckers comply with the federal hours-of-service rule, as they communicate this data in real time to monitored network hubs. Truckers are currently restricted to driving to no more than 11 hours a day within a 14-hour workday. Drivers must then be off duty for 10 consecutive hours. After a grace period that ends in April, all trucks must have ELD’s, or drivers (and their employers) will be written up for violating the mandate.

  • Weight / Size Restrictions: Unfortunately, in order to save money, many trucking companies try to operate trucks that are too large or too heavy for safety. So the FMCSA (and DOT before it) established and updates rules to govern the size and weight of trucks for interstate traffic (between different states). Uniform weight and size restrictions on trucks have also been a part of the industry for more than 70 years. For trucks that remain in state (intrastate), each one has weight and size limits for trucks which travel each particular state’s roads, including
  • Drugs / Alcohol: Directly tied to the hours-of-service issue is the use of drugs. When truckers try to make time and stay behind the wheel too long, many turn to illegal drugs to get them through. And, sadly, many truckers have caused horrible wrecks because of it. FMCSA has also established clear rules for testing drivers suspected of substance abuse, e.g., when testing can be done.

Other regulations that impact trucking safety cover regular inspection and maintenance, overloaded or improperly loaded vehicles, and driver distraction. Violations of these, and the regulations listed above, are all common elements of truck accidents. Refusal of a driver or the company that employs them to meet these regulations can be viewed as negligence in the event of a commercial truck accident.  The pressure to meet tight delivery schedules on time produces violations and often leaves innocent accident victims in their wake. The federal government continues to modify its guidelines for the trucking industry as an effort to prevent accidents.

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