Violating Truck Inspection Requirements Can Cause Accidents
All vehicle accidents are dangerous, but accidents involving large trucks are particularly dangerous simply due to their much larger size. Indeed, most of the fatalities1 in large truck crashes are the occupants of passenger vehicles. Trucks can weigh 20-30 times as much as a passenger vehicle, making their occupants particularly vulnerable. In 2015, there was a total of 2,171 deaths that were the result of two-vehicle crashes involving a large truck and a passenger vehicle. Of those deaths, 97% were the occupants of the passenger vehicle, while only 3% were the occupants of the truck. These statistics illustrate just how dangerous trucks accidents can be.
But what causes truck accidents? In many cases, it’s the same things that cause car accidents—driver distraction, fatigue, unfamiliarity with the area, or driving at excessive speeds. However, since trucks require much more skill to drive than passenger cars and commercial vehicle drivers are on the road many more hours than a typical driver, there are a strict set of regulations that apply to the trucking industry. If these regulations are not followed, accidents can happen.
Major Regulations (and What Can Happen if They Are Violated)
Because trucking activities are interstate in nature, they are regulated at the federal level. Chapter 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations2 concerns Transportation and sets out the federal regulations on commercial vehicle companies and their drivers. This chapter is quite an exhaustive document that we will not have time to cover in its entirety. However, below we will examine some of its most important regulations and what can potentially go wrong if they are violated.
Part 383: Licensing
Part 383 of Chapter 49 requires all operators of commercial vehicles to be properly licensed to operate. In order to obtain a commercial vehicle license, drivers must have the “required knowledge” and a set of “required skills.” Required knowledge includes knowledge of motor vehicle inspection, repair, and maintenance procedures, safety control systems, communication, extreme driving conditions, emergency maneuvers, skid control and recovery, procedures for handling hazardous materials, and fatigue and awareness. Required skills include the ability to perform a pre-trip vehicle inspection, how to inspect air brakes, basic vehicle control skills, and safe on-road driving skills, among others. These regulations are designed to ensure that only expert drivers obtain and keep commercial vehicle licenses. If a driver is negligent in any of these areas—say, he does not perform a pre-trip vehicle inspection, this can increase the risk of a fatal accident.
Part 395: Hours of Service
For drivers of vehicles carrying property (i.e., most truck drivers), a driver may work for no more than 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off within a consecutive 14-hour duty period, and no more than 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty. The restart may be used only once per week or every 168 hours. For drivers of passenger vehicles (i.e., buses), a driver may work no more than 10 hours after 8 consecutive hours off duty within a 15-hour duty period, and no more than 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. Overseeing the hours that a truck driver is working is the responsibility of the trucking company. If the trucking company keeps ineffective records of the hours their employees have been working—or worse, knowing requires them to work in violation of the hours of service restrictions—drivers can become fatigued, and this can increase the risk of accidents.
Part 382: Controlled Substances and Alcohol
Part 382 of Chapter 49 places certain restrictions on the ability of commercial drivers to consume alcohol and establishes testing procedures to ensure that they are complying with these rules. While it almost goes without saying that consuming alcohol while driving is prohibited, commercial vehicle drivers are also prohibited from consuming alcohol within four hours before their shift. They are also prohibited from using any scheduled controlled substance at all, besides those that have bene prescribed to them by a doctor. In order to ensure that these rules are not violated, trucking companies are required to perform pre-employment alcohol drug tests for each employee and periodic random alcohol and drug testing. Trucking companies are also required to perform a drug test of any employee when the company has reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver has violated the prohibition on drugs and alcohol. If the trucking company fails to screen their employees or fails to take reasonable care in discovering that they are violating drug and alcohol laws, they could potentially be putting an impaired driver on the road.
In order to ensure that trucking companies are complying with all federal regulations, they are subject to inspections known as the North American Standard Inspection Program.3 This program contains six levels of inspection ranging from comprehensive overviews to very specific inspections for hazardous materials or other dangerous cargo. These inspections are carried out by specially trained inspectors in every state.
The six levels of inspections are as follows:
Level I – North American Standard Inspection: This is a comprehensive inspection that includes examination of driver’s license, medical examiner’s certificate, Skills Performance Evaluation certificate, alcohol and drugs, driver’s record of duty status, hours of service, seat belt, brake systems, fuel systems, lighting devices, securement of cargo, and others.
Level II – Walk-Around Driver/Vehicle Inspection: This inspection is very similar to the Level I inspection, except that the inspector will inspect only those items that do not require him to physically get underneath the vehicle.
Level III – Driver/Credential Inspection: An in-depth examination of driver’s license, medical card, daily log, seat belt, driver and vehicle inspection report, driver incident history, and hazmat requirements.
Level IV – Special Inspections: This is a one-time inspection to investigate a particular feature of the vehicle
Level V – Vehicle-Only Inspection: Includes everything in Level I, except the driver does not have to be present
Level VI – Enhanced NAS Inspection for Radioactive Shipments: An inspection performed when the truck is carrying radioactive cargo.
Contact a Clearwater, FL Truck Accident Attorney for Help
If you’ve been injured in a trucking crash and a driver violated a regulation, you can seek financial recovery for your losses. Please contact the truck accident attorneys at the Dolman Law Group for a free consultation by calling 727-451-6900.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33756