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Truck Accidents

Overview of Federal Trucking Regulations

Those involved in the trucking industry must abide by numerous federal and state regulations. The federal regulations can be found in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (49 C.F.R. 350-399). These regulations govern all vehicles engaged in interstate traffic. These regulations are extensive and can be confusing. An experienced lawyer can explain these regulations and how they may apply to your truck accident case. The information below summarized the provisions that are more common in truck accident litigation.

Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing

The purpose of this section is to establish programs within trucking companies designed to prevent accidents and injuries resulting from impairment because of the use of alcohol or drugs by commercial vehicle drivers. This provision applies to all drivers of commercial vehicles in the U.S. and their employers, with some limited exceptions. Drivers who are required to have a commercial driver's license (CDL) under section 383 must be tested if they drive a vehicle that has a gross combination weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds inclusive of a towed unit with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds, has a gross vehicle weight rating of over 26,000 pounds, is designed to carry 16 or more passengers (including the driver) or is used to carry hazardous materials. 49 C.F.R. 382.107.

Commercial Driver's License Standards; Requirements and Penalties

By requiring drivers of certain vehicles to obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL), this provision aims to reduce or prevent truck and bus accidents. With a few exceptions, drivers must have a CDL if they drive a vehicle that has a gross combination weight or weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds, has a gross vehicle weight or weight rating of more than 26,000 pound, is designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) or is used to carry hazardous materials. 49 C.F.R. 383.5. Drivers must be knowledgeable about the various procedures that ensure safe operation of vehicles and be told about the negative effects of driving while fatigued, poor vision, alcohol or drug use and improper use of the truck's lights, horns, mirrors and other emergency equipment.

Qualification of Drivers

If a driver operates a tractor trailer or other commercial vehicle that weighs over 10,000 pounds, carries 16 or more passengers or transports hazardous materials, he or she must comply with certain regulations. Truck drivers must be at least 21 years old, speak English, be physically able to safely operate a truck, have a valid CDL and must not have been disqualified for driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, committing a felony, leaving the scene of an accident, refusing to take an alcohol test or any other reason. 49 C.F.R. 391.11.

Driving of Commercial Motor Vehicles

A truck driver, the trucking company and all other people responsible for the management, maintenance, operation or driving of any commercial motor vehicles or the hiring, supervision, training or dispatching of drivers must comply with federal regulations in order to operate a tractor trailer, tanker, straight truck or other commercial vehicle in interstate travel. Drivers must not drive while sick or tired and may not use illegal drugs. Drivers must obey traffic laws, load cargo safely, perform periodic inspections and drive cautiously in hazardous conditions. Drivers must be able to stop the vehicle before reaching railroad tracks, must stop when carrying hazardous materials or a trailer and must not shift while crossing railroad tracks. 49 C.F.R. 392.

Parts and Accessories Necessary for Safe Operation

The purpose of this section is to make sure that no employee or employer of a commercial motor vehicle company drives a truck or allows one to be driven unless the truck complies with the requirements in this section. There are specific regulations dealing with lighting devices and reflectors, brakes, brake performance, tires, emergency equipment, protection against shifting or falling cargo, securement systems blocking and bracing, front-end structure, frames, doors, hood, seats, bumpers, wheels and steering wheel systems. 49 C.F.R. 393.

Hours of Service of Drivers

This section has a number of restrictions related to the hours that a driver is permitted to drive. There are also regulations regarding time spent driving in hazardous weather conditions.

From the time a driver begins to work or is required to be in readiness to work until the time the driver is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work is known as "on duty" time. On-duty time includes:

  • Time waiting to be dispatched
  • Time inspecting, servicing or conditioning any commercial motor vehicle at any time
  • Driving time (all time spent at the driving controls of a commercial motor vehicle in operation)
  • Time in or on a commercial motor vehicle (other than time spent resting in or on a parked vehicle, time spent resting in a sleeper berth or up to 2 hours riding in the passenger seat of a property-carrying vehicle moving on the highway immediately before or after a period of at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth)
  • Time loading or unloading a commercial motor vehicle
  • Time repairing, obtaining assistance or remaining in attendance upon a disabled commercial motor vehicle
  • Time spent providing a breath sample or urine specimen (if requested to comply with random, reasonable suspicion, post-crash or follow-up testing)
  • Time performing any other work in the capacity, employ or service of a motor carrier
  • Time spent performing any compensated work for a person who is not a motor carrier

49 C.F.R. 395.

Inspection, Repair and Maintenance

This section applies to drivers of commercial vehicles that carry more than 16 people, weigh over 10,000 pounds or transport hazardous materials. It also applies to all motor carriers, officers, agents, representatives and employees directly concerned with the inspection and maintenance of those vehicles. The motor carrier is responsible for ensuring that all parts are in proper working condition and must maintain and keep repair and inspection records. A driver is not permitted to operate a vehicle that is likely to break down or cause an accident. Drivers must inspect their trucks at the start of each day and report any defects. 49 C.F.R. 396.

Transportation of Hazardous Materials

These provisions apply to drivers of commercial motor vehicles that transport hazardous materials. They also apply to motor carriers who are involved with transporting hazardous materials and employees of these carriers who perform supervisory duties related to the transportation of hazardous materials. With certain exceptions, the driver of a commercial motor vehicle that is carrying explosives cannot leave the vehicle unattended. There are also restrictions about where a driver carrying explosive materials can park. Smoking is not allowed within 25 feet of a truck containing explosives or flammable materials. 49 C.F.R. 397.

Speak to a trucking accident lawyer

The information provided above is merely a general overview of some of the more common federal regulations that arise in truck accident litigation. These regulations are complex and voluminous. For more information about these and other regulations, contact an experienced truck accident attorney.

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