As we hear more about autonomous vehicles and all of their potential benefits, including as it relates to commercial transportation, that technology is still on the horizon. For now, the steady flow of local and interstate commercial vehicle traffic is powered by humans, and that means human error is inevitable. The sheer size and weight of these trucks means when they are involved in crashes, catastrophic injuries often occur, leading to a lifetime of disability or even death.
Because of the increased danger that truck crashes pose, the commercial trucking industry is regulated by federal and state laws. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are primarily responsible for enforcing federal trucking regulations, while each state has additional laws regulating intra-state commercial trucking.
However, in a 2015 opinion piece published in the New York Times, Howard Abramson, a former executive at the American Trucking Association, stated that catastrophic truck accidents will continue to occur at an unacceptable rate as long as Congress kowtows to lobbyists from the commercial trucking industry. Abramson says the industry advocates for more flexibility regarding driver breaks and against mandatory safety features that would make all trucks safer.
Why It Matters
State and federal regulations are normally not a concern to those outside of the trucking industry until they or a loved one is involved in a serious crash with a commercial vehicle. If that occurs, it is critical to review the factors involved to determine if a violation of a federal or state trucking law contributed to cause the crash.
A thorough crash investigation should be initiated as soon as possible. The trucking company will most assuredly have risk management, attorneys and investigators at the scene as quickly as possible to protect their own financial interests. Depending upon the severity of the injuries, the police department or highway patrol may or may not conduct a full crash reconstruction. Many times, it is up to the personal injury attorneys to ensure a qualified crash reconstructionist makes it to the scene in a timely manner to conduct a full crash investigation in order to protect the victim's interests.
These are some key regulations regarding commercial trucking that a personal injury lawyer will review carefully to determine if any violations may have contributed to the crash:
Proper rest - The long-haul trucking industry is notorious for motivating its drivers to beat the clock, creating pay structures that encourage them to drive as many miles as possible and as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, federal regulations require commercial drivers to limit the amount of time a driver can work without rest. Travel logs must be kept and they must be accurate. On a numerous occasions, our law firm's careful inspection of truck drivers' log books have revealed falsified, inaccurate and incomplete logs pertaining to time on duty (driving), on duty (not driving), off duty and sleeper birth. Proof of violations are always important evidence in proving negligence and gross negligence of drivers and trucking companies in catastrophic personal injury lawsuits.
Commercial driver's licenses (CDLs) - Drivers of large trucks must be properly trained and licensed. A recent story on the fraudulent issuance of CDLs revealed that possession of a CDL does not always mean the driver is properly licensed. Obviously, a truck driver without a proper CDL could significantly impact the outcome of a personal injury lawsuit.
Maximum weight limits - Overloading an 18 wheeler or other commercial vehicle - or loading it improperly - is dangerous. The total weight of a shipment a tractor/trailer can carry depends upon the size and type. Often times, trucking companies break the law in terms of the freight they are carrying.
Quality control and maintenance - Commercial vehicles are regulated in both manufacturing and repairs. Important components like the highly technical air brake systems on these trucks must be inspected on a regular basis. An experienced personal injury law firm knows how to obtain the information necessary to determine whether an 18-wheeler or other commercial vehicle involved in a crash was properly maintained.
Injury claims involving commercial vehicles are defended aggressively by trucking companies that need to protect their bottom line. It is important to enlist the assistance of experienced injury attorneys like those at The Burress Snellings Law Firm, who understand the tactics these companies and their lawyers use to defend claims, hide or destroy evidence or otherwise take measures to minimize the amount they are forced to pay out.