Federal Laws That Govern Large Commercial Vehicles
According to the Congressional Research Service, more than 11 million big rigs travel throughout U.S. roads and nearly 4 million individuals hold commercial driver’s licenses. To address the influx of traffic accidents involving large commercial vehicles and the number of fatal and non-fatal injuries associated with these accidents, Congress assigned the Department of Transportation, namely the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the responsibility to regulate safety practices of commercial motor careers and drivers. Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was made responsible for the safety of large trucks themselves through the agency’s role in setting vehicle safety standards.
After many years of a decline in large truck collisions, injuries, and fatalities, there is now a steady increase reported since 2009. The increase can be attributed in part to inexperienced or unskilled drivers entering the industry, but it can also be caused by work-related stress of higher amounts of work among senior drivers.
In a federal perspective trucking companies and truck drivers are subject to the following regulations.
Regulations for Trucking Companies
To receive operating authority and a Department of Transportation identification number, trucking companies will need to register in order to observe regulations involving safety, employer and carrier responsibilities, financial liability responsibilities, and driver fitness. As part of their agreement with the Department of Transportation, carriers are mandated to supervise every aspect of their truck drivers, independent contractors, and employees in the following: Training, The vehicle’s maintenance, Records preservation, Service documentation, Financial liability, Vehicle size and weight restrictions, and Post-accident testing for truck operators.
Regulations for Commercial Drivers
To ensure truck drivers are qualified for their position, federal regulations will require them to become commercial driver’s licence holders. Large commercial vehicle operators must also abide by the following: Pass a medical fitness exam; Be able to safety secure the cargo; Follow all traffic laws; Avoid the use of electronic devices when behind the wheel; Complete a daily hours-of-service log; Inspect the vehicle before each shift as well as after, producing an examination report; and Comply with rules regarding the hours-of-service, which mandate rest hours and maximum driving per shift and week.
California’s State Safety Requirements
Commercial vehicle drivers and trucking companies will also need to observe state-imposed regulations, which can include federal rules and regulations. The California Department of Transportation particularly notes the following safety requirements:
- Drug and Alcohol Consumption
In accordance with California Vehicle Code §34520, motor carriers and their drivers will need to observe regulations regarding the alcohol and controlled substances use, testing, and transportation requirements of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation set forth in Part 382 Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
- Load Securement
The State of California observes load securement regulations provided by the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, however, several California Code of Regulations with respect to load securement continue to be enforced. This includes:
- Title 13, Division 2, Chapter 7 Article 1. Protections Against Shifting Cargo, and
- Title 13, Division 2, Chapter 7 Article 1. Liquids in Containers Considered Collapsible.
- Driver Log Book
A majority of truck drivers maintain driver’s log books that record their hours of operation. The maximum hours of operation for intrastate commerce are stated in the California Vehicle Code §34501.2 as well as in the California Code of Regulations.
- Safety Equipment
Large commercial trucks operating in the State of California are mandated to have the following:
- Three adequately maintained red emergency reflectors, and
- A fire extinguisher that has been securely placed in a visible place or a marked compartment.
All commercial vehicles must have equipment,such as reflectors, lights, and windshields that follow the standards provided by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Establishing Liability After a Big Rig Accident
The freight industry involves many different parties, all who play a significant role in ensuring the products being transported by the big rig get from one place to another. Unfortunately, this can be a disadvantage when an accident occurs, as establishing liability can be extremely challenging to ascertain.
The following list highlights a few of the most commonly named responsible parties in truck accident cases: The large commercial truck operator, The trucking company, The cargo loading company, The company performing regular inspections and maintenance on the truck, The manufacturing company responsible for a defective truck part, and/or The government agency responsible for maintaining or designing the highway or road where the accident took place.
All of the aforementioned parties have a legal duty of care, and can be held responsible when the injury of a person has occurred as a result of their negligence. While most cases will involve one responsible party, several parties can be named in a case for their share of responsibility in causing the accident.