The Role Trucking Regulations Play in Tractor-Trailer Accident Claims
Large truck accidents pose a special threat to other motorists because of the massive size and weight of these large vehicles. The consequences of a highway collision between a vehicle that tips the scales at 3,000 pounds and one that weighs 25 times that much or more can be devastating for the occupants of the smaller vehicle. Trucking cases present special issues and challenges that differ from other types of motor vehicle accidents. The increased danger posed by the bulk of these vehicles has led federal, state, and local governments to pass extensive safety regulations to mitigate the risk to others using the roadways.
Trucking Companies Must Comply with Federal, State, and Local Trucking Regulations
Because of the enhanced risk of injuries and fatalities posed by large commercial trucks, state and federal governments, as well as some local municipalities, have enacted a tangled web of special rules that apply to trucking companies, large trucks, and commercial drivers. The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the agency responsible for imposing these rules and restrictions at the federal level. These rules collectively comprise the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). These regulations apply to commercial trucks that transport goods across state lines (i.e. “interstate commerce”). Large trucks are subject to these regulations if they move hazardous materials, transport, at least 9 people, or weigh over 10,000 pounds. Trucking regulations generally bar commercial carriers from placing pressure on drivers to disregard the law, operate their truck unsafely.
The federal regulations establish rules regarding a wide range of trucking industry safety issues, including the following by way of example only:
Procedures and Standards for Hiring and Training Drivers: Commerical carriers must perform background investigations and testing before hiring a new driver. Trucking companies also have a duty to properly train drivers regarding trucking safety matters and policies related to intoxicating substances (e.g. drugs/alcohol).
Hours of Service (HOS) Rules: While the detailed requirements are complicated, these rules limit that amount of time a truck driver may operate a large truck and his or her on-duty time to reduce the risk of fatigue induced accidents. Commercial drivers must keep electronic log books as evidence of their compliance with these anti-fatigue regulations.
Driver Fitness: These regulations restrict truck drivers from operating a large truck when they have an illness or physical condition that limits their ability to drive the vehicle safely. Drivers must undergo an exam to determine if they are medically fit to operate a commercial truck.
Intoxicating Substances: Commercial drivers cannot use intoxicating substances before or during their shift behind the wheel. Trucking companies have a legal duty to perform drug and alcohol testing to detect violations.
Large Truck Maintenance: These regulations mandate that trucking companies perform inspections and maintenance on their vehicles. Logs must also be maintained that document routine maintenance, major mechanical repairs, and inspections.
State regulations differ significantly with some states simply adopting the FMCSRs for intra-state trucking (operating trucks within the state) while other have their own specific regulations. Because of this complex matrix of regulations and the fact that federal regulations change frequently, trucking accident victims typically will find it to their advantage to work with a law firm with experience litigating trucking accident cases.
Why Regulatory Violations Are So Important in Trucking Accident Cases
In most motor vehicle accident cases, evidence of negligence must be established for an injury victim to recover compensation. In basic terms, negligence refers to a party acting with less caution and care a reasonable person would under similar circumstances. While proving negligence can be extremely difficult depending on the facts, a special kind of negligence applies in trucking cases. Under the doctrine of “negligence per se,” the violation of a safety law or regulation that causes an accident can eliminate the need to independently prove negligence. Where a trucking violation is established, an injury victim does not need to prove that a reasonable person would have acted differently.
Despite this advantage for trucking accident victims, pursuing a trucking accident case still can be challenging. Trucking companies anticipate their drivers and trucks will be involved in accidents, so they are prepared when a crash occurs. Insurance companies that represent trucking companies have extensive knowledge of these regulations, which means injury victims need an attorney with similar knowledge on their side.
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