The federal government has promulgated extensive regulations that govern the commercial trucking industry to ensure that our roads are safe. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is charged with promulgating and enforcing these rules to reduce commercial truck accidents and fatalities. These regulations apply to truck drivers, employers, and commercial fleets that transport goods or passengers in interstate commerce.
Commercial trucks can present hazards to other motorists simply due to their size and weight. Although these vehicles account for only a small percentage of vehicles on the road, they are responsible for one out of every eight crash-related fatalities in the United States. If you have been involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. If a truck driver or their employer violated any federal or state regulation, this is highly persuasive evidence of negligence.
The regulations enacted by the FMCSA are known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, or FMCSR. Some of the main regulations include:
- Equipment-Related Safety Regulations: Commercial vehicles must have adequate braking systems for their cargo load and size that are properly maintained. They also must be fitted with specific technology that enhances their visibility on the road. The federal government also imposes safety requirements relating to a truck’s fuel system, windows, mirrors, tires, steering systems, radar detectors, and more.
- Driver-Related Regulations: Truck drivers are required to hold a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL). To obtain this license, they must first pass a written and skills test and get a Medical Examiner’s Certificate certifying their fitness for operating a commercial vehicle. To obtain this certificate, truck drivers must undergo routine drug and alcohol testing.
- Employer-Related Regulations: If a trucking company employs a driver who does not hold a CDL, the company can be held liable for injuries caused by their driver-employees. Employers are also required to obtain information about prospective hires’ criminal records, past moving violations, accidents, substance abuse, employment history, and more. Employers also have a duty to ensure their employees are sufficiently trained to operate a commercial truck safely. Employers must also maintain detailed records regarding their employees.
- Hours of Service: Many trucking companies require truck drivers to work long hours to turn a profit. Some require drivers to cover a specified distance in a shorter period than can safely be accomplished. Driver fatigue is extremely dangerous, and one of the leading causes of trucking accidents and fatalities. The FMCSA has very strict limits on how many continuous hours a driver is permitted to work, known as “hours of service” regulations. Not all employers adhere to these regulations. The FMCSA requires drivers to keep detailed records of their activities during their shifts, including rest breaks, and driving time. Such log books can serve as valuable evidence in a lawsuit.
- Distracted Driving-Related Regulations: Truck drivers are strictly prohibited from using their phones to send or read text messages or emails while driving, among other things. This area of the law is constantly evolving, and as hand-held technology becomes more of a safety issue on our roads, regulations for distracted driving could become increasingly strict.
- Cargo-Related Regulations: Trucks should not be overloaded and cargo must be evenly distributed. These rules are intended to protect motorists from shifting and falling cargo.
- Hazardous Materials: Trucks carrying “hazmats” are required to carry a special permit that they obtain from the FMCSA. All hazardous materials must be properly labeled and stored as required by law.
Even if a truck driver adheres to all the requirements set forth in the FMCSR, they can still be found liable in court if they were negligent.
Hours of Service Regulations
Accidents and crashes involving large trucks and commercial vehicles often result in serious and fatal injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were over 4,000 fatal truck accidents in 2015, and another 87,000 accidents resulting in serious injuries. Truckers routinely drive long hours over consecutive days that leave many fatigued, which is a leading cause of trucking accidents. To help reduce the number of trucking accidents caused by driver fatigue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has recently released new mandates on hours of service regulations.
At Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. we represent victims injured in trucking accidents. Our South Carolina personal injury law firm is dedicated to helping injured victims and the families of those who have been fatally injured in a trucking accident collect the maximum compensation they are entitled to receive. Our legal team uses our 30 years of experience to help our clients reach successful outcomes.
Hours of Service
The FMCSA has initiated new hours of service regulations for commercial vehicle drivers. These rules apply to all drivers of trucks, busses, and vans that weigh in excess of 10,000 pounds, and transport hazardous materials or passengers. The regulations pertain to consecutive hours on the job, which can include the hours a driver spends waiting to be dispatched, loaded, unloaded, and those spent inspecting, maintaining, and conditioning the vehicle, as well as drug and alcohol testing.
The new regulations also require that truck drivers keep a detailed log book that is essential to compliance as well as in truck accident investigations. Each driver must log their record of duty status in their own handwriting with their signature to verify the validity of the record. Drivers must record all activity under their scheduled time of duty, including time spent driving, time spent sleeping in the berth of the truck, total miles driven, details on cargo hauled, and even time spent eating. Toll tickets, fuel receipts, and other documentation are used to validate these records.
Property-Carrying and Passenger-Carrying Commercial Vehicles
Commercial trucks and motor vehicles are divided into two classes; those that carry cargo and those that transport passengers. Trucks fall under the property-carrying classification. Other motor vehicles that are designed to transport eight or more passengers for compensation, or those that are designed to transport 15 or more passengers not used for compensation, are considered passenger-carrying commercial vehicles. There are slightly different hours of service for each of these categories.
Property-carrying truck drivers are limited to driving 11 consecutive hours following an off-duty period of 10 hours or more. Drivers can extend their driving time to a 14-hour limit, but only after having an off-duty period of 10 consecutive hours. Mandatory rest breaks of 30 minutes must be taken every eight hours. A driver is also restricted to driving no more than 60 to 70 hours in a seven to eight-day period. This seven to eight-day time frame can be reset after an off-duty period of 34 consecutive hours. Drivers are required to spend at least eight hours in a sleeper berth of their truck and another two-hour rest period or off-duty shift during each 24-hour period.
Passenger-carrying commercial vehicle mandates are different. Drivers have a 10-hour driving limit and require a mandatory eight hours of off-duty time to be able to take advantage of the 15-hour extended driving time allowance. They have the same restriction of not driving more than 60 to 70 hours in a seven to eight-day period. Drivers must spend eight hours in their sleeping birth, but can use them in two time periods that are no less than two hours in length.
Columbia, SC Truck Accident Lawyers at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. Advocate for Victims of Negligence
At Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A., we have extensive experience investigating trucking accidents to get answers for our clients and hold the responsible parties accountable. To learn more about how we can help you, contact an experienced Columbia truck accident lawyer today at 803-929-3600, or contact us online. We offer free consultations at our six offices conveniently located across South Carolina. We represent victims of trucking accidents throughout South Carolina, including Columbia, Alken, Camden, Sumter, Orangeburg, Greenville, Florence, Beaufort, Irmo, Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island, West Columbia, Rock Hill, Charleston, Lexington, Winnsboro, and Summerville.