Truck Accidents Caused By Negligence
If you are injured in an accident with another vehicle, to recover for your damages, you must show that the other driver was negligent. Often negligence can be shown by proving that the other party violated some traffic rule, such as failing to stop at a red light or exceeding the speed limit. These “rules of the road” are called “traffic safety regulations.”
Likewise, when you are injured in an accident with a truck, to recover for your damages, you must show that someone else was negligent. To do this, you may prove that someone violated one of the rules applicable to trucks and carriers. These are called “truck safety regulations.”
There are hundreds of regulations that apply to trucks and carriers. The agency that governs these regulations is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).
The federal regulations that apply to trucks generally cover primary areas of safety, each of which has its own set of regulations. These areas include:
- Trucking Companies or Carriers
- Drug and Alcohol Use
- Hours of Service
Within all of these areas, there are general regulations for things like:
- Certificates of operation
- Noise emissions
- Vehicle inspection
- Exhaust systems
Here are the areas that are regulated and the specific regulations that are often relevant to truck accident collisions.
The Trucking Companies or Carriers
- Claims. The FMCSA enforces regulations regarding claims made for loss or damage to property, injury, and delay (in transporting goods). The regulations address proper procedure for the acknowledgment, investigation, disposition, and processing of claims.
- Training. There are extensive requirements for the training of entry-level drivers (less than one year of experience). In addition to driver training for the type of license issued, entry-level driver training must include instruction in four areas:
- Driver qualification requirements. These address the driver’s medical examination and certification, general qualifications, responsibilities, and disqualifications based on any previous offenses or loss of driving privileges.
- Hours of service of drivers. This training focuses on limitations on driving hours [see below], duty record-keeping, and fatigue countermeasures as a means to avoid crashes.
- Driver wellness. This training includes basic health maintenance including diet and exercise, and the importance of avoiding excessive use of alcohol.
- Whistleblower protection. This training covers the driver’s right to question the safety practices of the company without the risk of losing their job.
- Drug and Alcohol policies. Every employer of drivers must promulgate a policy on the misuse of alcohol and use of controlled substances, provide training for supervisors on the drug and alcohol policies and procedures, and offer referral services, evaluation, and treatment.
The regulations focused specifically on drivers:
- Prohibits a driver from having more than one commercial motor vehicle driver's license;
- Requires a driver to notify the employer of certain convictions;
- Requires the driver to provide previous employment information;
- Prohibits an employer from allowing a driver with a suspended license to drive;
- Disqualifies drivers who have been convicted of certain criminal and other offenses and serious traffic violations, or who is subject to any suspensions, revocations, or cancellations of certain driving privileges;
- Establish testing and licensing requirements;
- Require states to give knowledge and skills tests to all qualified applicants.
A driver should not be certified if all of these regulations are followed and the driver does not satisfy all the requirements.
Drug and Alcohol Use
There are extensive regulations regarding a driver’s use of drugs or alcohol. Every employer must implement drug and alcohol testing that follows federal procedures. Testing must be conducted:
- Upon reasonable suspicion
- When returning to duty after a failed test
- As a follow-up
Specifically, “No driver shall report for duty or remain on duty . . . while having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater. No employer having knowledge that a driver has an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater shall permit the driver to perform or continue to perform . . . .”
The regulations prohibit the use of drugs or alcohol:
- While on duty
- Pre-duty (within four hours of driving)
- Following an accident (“eight hours following an accident, or until [the driver] undergoes a post-accident alcohol test, whichever occurs first”)
If a driver or an employer violates any of the drug and alcohol regulations, each could suffer civil and criminal penalties.
Hazardous Material (HazMat)
In the area of hazardous material, there are regulations for the proper inspection or investigation of carriers to ensure compliance with the Federal hazardous material transportation law. Agents are authorized to stop, open, and inspect any package in transportation to learn its nature and content and ensure the proper transportation of any perishable hazardous material. Agents can remove, for 48 hours for inspection, any package they believe to be a hazard.
Safety Fitness Standards
The regulations apply a safety fitness standard rating to ensure adequate safety management controls and compliance to reduce any risks associated with:
- Commercial license violations
- Inadequate financial responsibility
- Unqualified drivers
- Improper use and driving of motor vehicles
- Unsafe vehicles
- Failure to maintain accident records
- Fatigued drivers
- Inadequate inspection, repair, and maintenance of vehicles
- Transportation of hazardous materials rule violations
- Motor vehicle accidents
A safety audit will be conducted to ensure compliance with all regulations, with a process for revocation and reinstatement.
Hours of Service
The regulations for hours of service are extensive and detailed and include specific rules for things like:
- Rest breaks
- Sleeper berths (sleeping cabin in the truck)
- Records of duty status
However, the major provisions of the hours-of-service regulations prohibit carriers from allowing or requiring any driver to drive as follows:
- More than 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty within a consecutive 14-hour duty period
- More than 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.
- A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty, which includes two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.
- The restart may be used only once per week, or 168 hours, measured from the beginning of the previous restart.
The regulations require that vehicles have ‘operational lights and reflectors; . . . systematically arranged and installed wiring; and . . . brakes working at the required performance level, and other key components . . . .”
The regulations also
prohibit a vehicle from being operated when it is likely to cause an accident or a breakdown; require the driver to conduct a walk-around inspection of the vehicle before driving it to ensure that it can be safely operated; require the driver to prepare a driver vehicle inspection report; and require commercial motor vehicles to be inspected at least annually.
Regulation Violations Can Help You Prove Negligence
Truck companies, carriers, and drivers are obligated to follow different rules than drivers of cars or other vehicles. Because of how dangerous commercial carriers can be on the road, truck drivers must undergo special training and testing to assure safety on the roadway.