Trucking companies put large, powerful and potentially dangerous vehicles on the roads every day. The companies owe a duty to everyone who shares the road with these massive commercial vehicles, including other motorists in passenger cars, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians. The trucking companies must take reasonable steps to ensure that their drivers are competent, and their tractor-trailer rigs are in safe condition. If a truck accident occurs because a trucking company failed to meet this duty, anyone harmed by the trucking company’s negligence has the right to seek full and fair compensation.
State and federal trucking regulations, including Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules, reflect the basic safety duty of trucking companies in Texas, New Mexico and across the country. If a trucking company violates these rules, the company can face fines and other serious consequences. If an accident occurs, the violation may also serve as proof that the company was negligent. It could serve as grounds for liability in a truck accident lawsuit under a legal theory known as “negligence per se.”
Some of the rules that trucking companies must follow include the following:
Hours of Service Regulations
If you drive a truck for a living, you spend a lot of time on the road. Unfortunately, trucking companies often push their employees to drive for long, unsafe stretches of time. Drivers who become fatigued or exhausted present a grave danger to themselves and others. Sleep deprivation or simple weariness severely reduces a driver’s reaction time, decreases general awareness and impairs decision-making skills.
In response to these dangers, the FMCSA requires trucking companies to put hours-of-service restrictions on drivers who operate large vehicles. These rules aim to ensure that drivers are awake and alert when behind the wheel. The rules essentially prohibit trucking companies from requiring their drivers to be on the road for unreasonable stretches of time.
Distracted driving among truck drivers is a serious problem, including using cell phones, tablets, laptops or Qualcomm systems while behind the wheel. The FMCSA reports that driver distraction serves as a factor in roughly 6 percent of the total fatal truck crashes that occur in the U.S. each year.
Most states, including Texas and New Mexico, have laws that prohibit all drivers from texting while driving. While Texas has no statewide ban on using a hand-held device while driving, many cities in the state prohibit such activity. New Mexico bars only commercial drivers from using hand-held electronic communication devices. In addition to these state laws, FMCSA regulations prohibit truck drivers from texting while driving as well as from talking on hand-held devices. (However, several studies have found that use of hands-free devices while driving can be just as dangerous.)
Trucking companies should have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to texting or talking on a cell phone while driving. Additionally, companies should warn their drivers about letting other types of distraction to get in the way of safely operating their rigs, including eating, drinking or smoking while driving.
Commercial Driver Requirements
Commercial truck drivers must demonstrate that they have the skill and knowledge to operate an 18-wheeler. States establish different requirements for drivers who wish to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). In addition to requiring drivers to have a CDL, state and federal regulations also require that trucking companies conduct background checks before they hire drivers. Those background checks should cover the driver’s:
- Safety performance history
- Past drug and alcohol violations
- Traffic violation and/or accident history
- Medical condition (including having a copy of a medical examiner’s certificate).
If a trucking company hires a driver who lacks a CDL or hires a driver without conducting a mandatory background check, that company should be held liable for negligence if the driver goes on to cause a truck accident that harms others.
Drug and Alcohol Testing of Drivers
No driver should operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. If the driver operates an 80,000-pound rig that requires a great deal of skill to safely operate, the danger becomes magnified. It’s no wonder that Texas, New Mexico and other states set the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for commercial truck drivers at 0.04 (compared to 0.08 for drivers of other types of vehicles).
Both state and federal trucking regulations try to address the risk of drunk driving and drugged driving. The rules require trucking companies to conduct drug and alcohol tests of their drivers. The companies must conduct these tests:
- Before hiring a driver
- After most types of accidents
- Randomly throughout the year
- When there is a reasonable suspicion that a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Before a driver returns to duty after having a positive test or refusing to undergo a test (follow-up tests must also be conducted)
A trucking company can be liable for the negligence of its employees. However, if an accident occurred because a trucking company failed to properly test a driver for alcohol and drug use, that company should be held liable for its own negligence.
Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance
Most commercial vehicles see an incredible amount of use as they journey back and forth across the country. Basic wear-and-tear occurs. However, even the smallest mechanical issue can lead to a tremendous crash. So, it is crucial for companies to make sure their vehicles are safe for travel.
Both state and federal rules require truck drivers (and their employers) to ensure that their vehicles and accessories are in “good working order.” They must conduct pre-trip inspections and review a checklist of items. If the trucker, a supervisor or company mechanic discovers defects, the company should address the issue before the truck hits the road. Additionally, trucking companies must secure cargo so as to ensure that no spills or cargo shifts occur.
Official safety inspectors conduct roadside inspections in order to ensure that a commercial truck and its driver meet all necessary regulations. These inspections play a crucial role in making sure that trucking companies follow state and federal rules. Unfortunately, too many do not. When officials discover safety violations, they will deem the driver or vehicle to be “out-of-service” until the trucking company corrects the issue.
Get Help from an East Texas Truck Accident Lawyer
It can be tempting for trucking companies to bend or even ignore state and federal regulations. The quest for profits often leads companies to avoid buying new and essential vehicle parts or to push their drivers to make longer, more difficult trips. Government regulations can deter that behavior by requiring the companies to meet certain requirements that are designed for safety purposes.
When trucking companies do not follow regulations, the consequences can be dire. If you or someone you love has been involved in a trucking accident in Texas, New Mexico or elsewhere, you should immediately seek help from an experienced attorney. You might be legally entitled to compensation, especially if a driver or company violated mandatory safety regulations.
The experienced truck accident attorneys at The Sloan Firm will fight for you and safeguard your future. What matters to you, matters to us. If you or a loved one has been hurt in a trucking accident, contact us for a free consultation through our offices in Longview, Houston and Santa Fe, New Mexico.