Federal Motor Carrier Safety: A Comprehensive Guide

There are plenty of safety considerations when you're headed out on the open road. When your vehicle weighs more than 30,000 pounds, those safety considerations multiply quickly. There's no doubt that when a tractor-trailer and a sedan cross paths, the tractor-trailer will win every time.

This is why safety is so important when it comes to trucks and truck drivers. Driving trucks for a living is a demanding and dangerous job with a long list of safety regulations and requirements; rules that help to prevent accidents and keep everyone safe while still delivering goods across the country.

The law firm of Girardi | Keese assists victims of personal injury accidents in Southern California from two office locations in Los Angeles and San Bernardino.

Regulation And Enforcement Of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Laws

As part of the Department of Transportation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) oversees safety regulations and guidelines to help keep truckers and those around them safe. These regulations apply to everyone who is involved in operating commercial vehicles. This means that the rules apply not only to drivers, but to managers, trainers, dispatchers and all others who are involved in the trucking industry.

On a more practical level, enforcement for commercial vehicles is done by certified commercial motor vehicle inspectors and others in law enforcement. This can include police officers, depending on the regulation and situation.

Important Federal Motor Carrier Safety Laws And Guidelines

With so many things that could go wrong, there are a lot of laws that govern the use of commercial vehicles. The following are some of the most important for keeping everyone on the road safe:

  • Summary of Hours rule. This rule determines how much a commercial driver can be behind the wheel before needing a mandatory rest period. One of the biggest safety issues for commercial drivers is getting tired while driving. Truck drivers are under tremendous pressure to get cargo from one place to another as quickly as possible, so many of them drive for long hours.
  • Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) score. Drivers earn a score based on crash investigations and random roadside inspections. The purpose of the score is to evaluate the safety practices of commercial drivers and to provide a system for maintaining commercial driver's licenses.

The Two Most Common Violations

Drivers are in a tricky situation. They want to keep their CSA score down, but they also want to make the most of their time. That being the case, violations are common.

Many drivers struggle with balancing their need for speed with road safety. Most truck driving violations result from truckers trying to maximize their time behind the wheel and include:

  • Speeding
  • Failing to obey traffic control devices

Taking a risk with an 18-wheeler can make a bad situation much worse very quickly. Violations that would be minor in a car can turn deadly when they involve a large commercial vehicle. When the truck going 15 mph over the speed limit weighs over 20 times that of a passenger vehicle, the consequences can be catastrophic.

Not only does the sheer weight of commercial vehicles lead to a lot of damage, but that additional weight significantly increases the time it takes a truck to stop, turn or change lanes. Changes in road conditions that would not affect smaller vehicles can have a substantial effect on tractor-trailers. Also, this problem is amplified if the driver is tired or distracted because he or she needs more time to react and slow down or stop.

Legal And Criminal Risks Of Breaking Federal Motor Safety Laws

As with any highly regulated industry, there are plenty of consequences for violating FMCSA rules. These consequences can be for drivers as well as the business for which they work. Penalty amounts are based on the violation and the fines can start in the hundreds and quickly reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.

With criminal violations, the penalties escalate quickly because of the amount of damage a commercial vehicle can cause. Even when the damage is relatively minor, commercial drivers and their employers can see harsh consequences because of the risks involved with commercial vehicles.

New And Upcoming Regulations

To continue improving the safety of every motorist on the road, the FMCSA continues to develop regulations for trucking companies. Often, before a new regulation becomes mandatory, trucking companies may attempt to implement the change to keep motorists safe and ensure compliance before dealing with an expensive violation.

The most recent change has been to mandate the use of electronic logging devices. The electronic logging device (ELD) rule helps ensure that drivers are taking (and given) proper rest periods and are not driving more than the permitted hours per day and week.

Above And Beyond Federal Regulation

Trucking companies want to be able to avoid fines and penalties so they can stay in business. Many go above and beyond the federal regulations so that no one is caught defending a "close call."

Often, truck accidents are caused by drivers who are overworked and drive when they are exhausted. A driver who is tired is not only at risk for falling asleep, but is also unable to focus on the road. (This applies to all motorists, not just commercial drivers.)

Trucking companies can help by:

  • Encouraging drivers to take rests breaks when they need them
  • Allowing drivers to rest when they need it rather than penalizing them
  • Setting the number of hours a driver works below the federal level of allowed hours
  • Conducting regular vehicle inspections above and beyond the random federally reportable inspections

When a trucking company makes safe driving a priority, the roads become safer for everyone. While it may change business efficiency, the benefit is increased safety of employees.

What To Do If You're Involved In A Truck Accident

First and foremost, if you're involved in a truck accident, seek medical attention even if your injuries don't seem serious. Seeing a doctor can help document and establish the timeline of your injuries. This makes it clear that they resulted from the accident and helps you get the care you need. Keep in mind that adrenaline and shock can mask your symptoms.

Don't trust that your insurance company will have your best interests in mind. Too often, insurers try to pay their customers at little as possible to save their companies money. Seek the assistance of an experienced truck accident lawyer who will help ensure that you get the compensation to which you are entitled.

Contact Girardi | Keese today by calling 800-401-4530 or by connecting with us online to get started. We will explain all your options and help you get the recovery you deserve. All personal injury accidents are handled on a contingency basis. This means you do not pay any attorney fees unless you prevail.