Truckers who drive big rigs have a unique capacity to cause damage and catastrophic injuries. Thus, a network of federal codes and regulations seek to minimize the risk of trucking accidents. Federal truck laws control every aspect of trucking from licensure to downtime. State and local laws mirror federal codes and supplement them with jurisdiction-based statutes.
Despite rigorous legislation to keep motorists safe, truckers do not always follow the laws. They often cause an accident while violating a local traffic statute or a federal regulation. If you or your loved ones sustained serious or catastrophic truck accident injuries, you need a legal advocate to work on your behalf.
The Truck Accident Attorney’s Role
Truck accident attorneys have spent time studying complex truck accident issues. They have taken on the worst-of-the-worst crash cases because they understand the complex liability issues and damage complications.
Truck accident attorneys have assisted clients as they recovered from horrific crash-related injuries. These experiences taught them that truck accidents require far more investigation and analysis than private passenger vehicle crashes. They recognize that each case demands a dedicated commitment from initial investigation through final resolution. Truck accident attorneys generally approach each case as though they will present their clients’ evidence in court someday.
Truck Accident Investigations
A comprehensive truck accident investigation brings out relevant facts that help move a case forward. It does not just focus on the trucker’s negligent actions. Truck accident investigations often involve tracking down a transport company, a shipper, a loader, or truck maintenance contractors. It considers any entity that played a part in putting the negligent trucker on the road. This critical information allows a lawyer to analyze liability, pinpoint the responsible parties, and place them on notice of pending claims.
This is an ongoing process. As truck accidents often cause severe or catastrophic injuries, the healing process sometimes continues indefinitely. An attorney monitors their injured client’s progress by discussing their injuries and reviewing medical documentation. When a client has reached maximum healing, legal representatives obtain final details about temporary and permanent impairments, medical bills, wage losses, and other injury-related issues.
Attorneys evaluate liability by reviewing the evidence, and they understand each party’s legal responsibilities. For a private passenger vehicle accident, that process usually revolves around a negligent driver’s actions. For a trucker, legal responsibility often involves far more issues. Truckers must comply with numerous safety regulations. While a failure to comply with a federal regulation does not always mean that a driver is legally responsible, a violation sometimes provides a unique liability focus.
State and federal truck codes and statutes often provide the key to properly analyzing liability after an accident.
- A loading violation is often the cause of a jackknife accident.
- Hours of Service violations often mean that a trucker was overworked and exhausted when an accident occurred.
- An alcohol or drug violation usually means that the driver was impaired when he or she caused an accident.
- If a driver is unqualified, perhaps he or she should never have been behind the wheel.
Why Are Trucks so Heavily Regulated?
The federal government regulates trucks and truckers so heavily because they can cause so much harm. Federal laws establish guidelines and procedures that promote safety and require preventative actions. States usually mirror those guidelines and enact additional laws that are relevant to their specific needs.
Many interstate truckers drive legally designated large trucks. These trucks weigh 10,000 pounds or more. When fully loaded, they reach allowable maximum weights of up to 80,000 pounds plus. Large trucks are everywhere; and in most cases, truckers are out there on their own. This autonomy is necessary, as commercial drivers deliver goods throughout states, across the country, and into Mexico and Canada. When a trucker violates safety regulations or ignores protocol, they take that bad behavior wherever they go.
The American Trucking Association supplies the most recent trucking industry milestones.
- Commercial trucks carry 72.5 percent of all freight in the United States.
- Commercial truckers hauled 83.1 percent of America’s surface trade with Mexico and 67.7 percent of Canada’s.
- As of April 2020, the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Association listed 928,647 for-hire transport companies.
- The agency lists 799,342 private carriers and 84,763 “other” carriers.
- The American trucking industry employs 7.95 million people as truckers and transport company staff.
- The trucking industry employs 3.6 million truck drivers.
Federal Truck Laws
Title 49, Transportation of the U.S. Federal Code, outlines federal trucking regulations and legal standards for all transportation modes. It also establishes guidelines for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the FMCSA, the National Traffic Safety Board, and other federal safety agencies. Because safety is such a critical issue, legislators continuously update existing laws to make them more relevant to current-day situations.
Commercial Driver’s Qualifications
Every trucker must have a Commercial Driver’s License in compliance with U.S. Transportation Codes 49 CFR, §383. The codes outline required training, licensing, and safety, and disciplinary standards.
The codes include these and other CDL requirements.
- Age 18 with a driver’s license.
- Free of certain criminal traffic convictions.
- Participate in pre-licensing training.
- Meet health requirements (vision, hearing, addiction, etc).
- Pass a written knowledge test to earn a Commercial Learner’s Permit.
- May take CDL skills tests (Control, Road Test, Air Brakes) within 14 of earning a CLP.
- May hold only one type of driver’s license.
Each state administers its own CDL program and implements some of its own rules. State laws must still meet federal minimum licensing standards under §384, State Compliance With Commercial Driver’s License Program. The FMCSA conducts periodic state CDL program reviews to determine substantial compliance.
Driver’s License Endorsements
To qualify for more than a basic CDL, a trucker must pass additional tests and earn specific license endorsements. Each CDL license has a letter that designates the group of vehicles within a trucker’s driving authority.
A driver wishing to qualify to drive a certain vehicle type or combination must take a skills test using a vehicle representative of that group.
- Group A combination vehicles: Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, also a combination that includes one towed vehicle up to 10,000 GVWR.
- Group B heavy straight vehicles: Vehicles 26,00l pounds GVWR, plus a towed vehicle up to 10,000 pounds, also transport vehicles that hold 24 passengers or more.
- Group C small vehicles: A single vehicle or combination (not A or B), may transport hazardous materials or 16 passengers or more.
A CDL driver cannot operate these additional vehicles until they qualify for the specific endorsement. The Transportation Code, §383.93, Endorsements lists these additional endorsement requirements.
- Double/triple trailers: knowledge test
- Passenger: knowledge and skill tests
- Tank vehicle: knowledge test
- Hazardous materials: knowledge test
- School bus: knowledge and skills tests
US Federal Transportation Code, §383.51, Disqualification of drivers, explains the circumstances under which a CDL operator becomes disqualified to drive. Most of the listed convictions call for temporary disqualifications, from 60 days to three years. Other violations invoke a lifetime suspension. One example is the July 2019 rule that institutes a lifetime ban on truckers involved in human trafficking.
Imminent danger suspensions. Commercial drivers are subject to an immediate suspension if their actions constitute an imminent danger. An imminent danger suspension begins even before a trucker has gone through a formal legal process. These suspensions occur when a trucker or vehicle presents a likelihood of serious injury or death. Pennsylvania and other states also have a list of disqualifying conditions.
Commercial Driver Substance Abuse
Federal Transportation Code, §382 explains the regulations related to alcohol and drug use. Drivers are ultimately responsible for alcohol and drug use, but their employers hold some responsibility as well. Federal regulations require that employers monitor employees’ actions for compliance.
Federal codes include these alcohol and drug-related prohibitions.
- Drivers cannot perform any “safety-sensitive functions” if their blood alcohol content is 0.04 percent or greater. This is half the legal BAC in most states for non-commercial drivers.
- An employee cannot use alcohol while performing safety-sensitive functions.
- A driver is not allowed to perform a safety-sensitive function for four hours after consuming alcohol.
- No driver can use alcohol within 8 hours after an accident, or until after he or she has submitted to a post-accident alcohol test.
- Drivers cannot perform safety-sensitive functions while using controlled substances or drugs listed in
Employers Are Responsible for Substance Abuse Compliance
An employer is responsible for identifying prohibited drug and alcohol-related behavior and complying with state and federal regulations. They must remove an employee from duty if they commit a prohibited drug or alcohol-related act. If an employer removes an employee from duty, the employee may still perform non-safety-sensitive tasks, such as warehouse material handling.
Before allowing the employee to return to normal duty, employers must comply with federal protocols. They must make sure the violating employee has undergone an evaluation with a Substance Abuse Professional. The employee must comply with any treatment recommendations and undergo a second evaluation before returning to work.
Employees are responsible for implementing federally mandated alcohol and substance abuse testing in compliance with §382.301.
- Pre-employment testing
- Post-accident testing
- Random testing
- Reasonable suspicion testing
- Return to duty testing
- Follow-up testing
Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse
Substance Abuse Professionals, medical personnel, and FMCSA-regulated entities provide trucker substance abuse data to the Commercial Drivers Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. This federal database is a central resource for commercial transport employers, licensing agencies, and law enforcement personnel. These entities access the clearinghouse before making key hiring, prosecution, and reinstatement decisions.
When a tractor-trailer jackknifes, overturns, or begins a sudden movement shift, it is often due to improperly loaded cargo. Proper cargo securement is one of the safety standards outlined under Transportation Codes, §393, Subpart I, Protection Against Shifting and Falling Cargo. As with many federal statutes, commercial drivers receive a handbook that describes proper securement techniques and supplies. This section of the Transportation Code also explains requirements for lamps, wiring, brakes, windows, fuel systems, and other truck equipment.
Hours of Service
Truckers put in long hours because they supply an essential service. As older truckers are retiring, an ongoing trucker shortage has limited the number of truckers qualified to do the job. Available truckers have sometimes met the demand by working longer hours than allowed. Unfortunately, those longer work-hours increase the safety risks their large vehicles present.
To increase safety on the road, Federal Code, §395, Hours of Service of Drivers regulates a trucker’s on-duty-time and required downtime.
The guidelines hold truckers and trucking companies responsible for compliance.
- Truckers driving most commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds or over 10,000 GVWR must maintain a record of duty status.
- As of December 2017, federal codes required Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) to automatically document driver hours.
- A few transport companies do not have to comply with ELD requirements.
- New hours of service updates allow drivers more flexibility in meeting their drive-time/downtime responsibilities.
Do You Need an Attorney if You Are Injured in a Truck Accident?
If a truck accident injured you, don’t try to handle it on your own. When you consult with a truck accident attorney, you receive the legal assistance you need to move your case forward. Attorneys deal with transport companies, negligent drivers, and their insurance companies. They investigate and evaluate your case while you focus on healing.
When you schedule a consultation, you speak with a legal representative about your case. In some situations, a legal representative conducts your consultation via phone, online chat, or virtual visit. You get a chance to tell your story and learn more about your legal options. Your initial consultation is complimentary and you do not have to make any decisions until you are ready. Contact an attorney today for more information about your legal options moving forward.