Commercial trucks play an essential role in American life. California, one of the world’s largest economies, sees vast numbers of trucks carrying goods on our roads and highways. Yet this high density of large commercial vehicles poses many risks to the safety of others on the road. Speak to an experienced California truck accident attorney to learn more about your legal options.
Large trucks are inherently dangerous vehicles. If the truck driver, trucking company, maintenance company, or another entity fails to act responsibly, these vehicles can cause catastrophic damage and life-altering injuries if involved in a crash. As such, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has established strict safety regulations governing the operation of large commercial vehicles.
These rules include:
- Hours of service
- Vehicle inspections
- Alcohol and drug testing
- Hazardous materials
- Department of Transportation (DOT) medical exams
- Required forms and certificates
When truck drivers, trucking companies, and other relevant parties do not comply with these federal regulations, the chances of dangerous accidents increase exponentially.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a truck accident, understanding FMCSA regulations can help you know what steps to take in holding the at-fault party accountable for the crash. In some cases, multiple parties might be liable for your losses.
Hours of Service
Driving any vehicle (commercial or passenger) requires mental alertness. Drivers who are drowsy or fatigued are a danger to themselves and others on the road. This responsibility to remain alert is particularly vital for commercial truck drivers, which is why the FMCSA’s regulations include strict “hours of service” rules.
According to these rules, individuals who operate certain commercial vehicles must take breaks after driving a set number of hours in trucks that:
- Weigh 10,001 or more pounds with cargo
- Have a gross vehicle weight of 10,001 or more pounds
- Carry hazardous materials over a certain quantity
- Meet other thresholds for federal regulations
One of the primary hours of service limitations is the 14-hour driving window. A commercial driver may not drive for more than 11 hours within any 14-hour period. At the end of that 14-hour window, a trucker may not drive at all within the 10 hours that follow.
Hours of service rules also govern the number of hours a trucker may work during a seven- or eight-day period, depending on how many days per week the trucking company operates vehicles. If the company operates six days a week or fewer, the trucker cannot drive a commercial vehicle for more than 60 hours in a seven-day period.
If the company operates seven days a week, the trucker cannot drive a commercial vehicle for more than 70 hours in an eight-day period. However, the driver can reset their 60- or 70-hour clock by being off duty or in the truck’s sleeper berth for 34 hours or more.
In addition, a trucker must take a half-hour break at some point within the first eight hours of their shift.
Drivers who do not follow these rules dramatically increase their chances of causing devastating accidents. A recent survey indicates that 13 percent of truck drivers in accidents admitted to feeling drowsy. Because this figure depends on self-reporting, the actual percentage is almost certainly higher.
In the past, proving hours of service violations depended on driver self-reports in the form of driver logs. However, a skilled truck accident attorney can often recognize when a trucker has attempted to misrepresent the information on their paper logs. Moreover, many trucks now carry electronic onboard recorder systems that track the vehicle’s driving time. Your lawyer could request the data from this computer as they gather evidence for your case, and if the trucking company is not forthcoming, your attorney could issue a subpoena to obtain the information needed.
While commercial trucks are certainly challenging to operate, not all truck accidents happen due to driver error. Sometimes, the failure of a mechanical component can cause the trucker to lose control of the vehicle, leading to the potential for tragic accidents. This danger is why FMCSA mandates commercial vehicle inspections at regular intervals.
These inspections should ensure the safe operation of components such as:
- Service brakes. Worn or damaged brakes may prevent a driver from stopping in time to avoid a collision.
- Steering column. Issues with the steering column will cause a trucker to lose control of the vehicle.
- Windshield wipers and glazing. If the driver does not have clear visibility through the windshield, they will not be able to see potential road hazards ahead.
- Suspension. Problems with the vehicle’s suspension system can cause issues throughout the truck, including dislodging the cargo.
- Wheels, rims, and tires. Blowouts can occur if these elements have signs of wear.
- Lights and reflectors. Without functioning lights, a truck becomes essentially invisible at night. Even during the day, accidents can happen if other road users do not know when the truck intends to turn, change lanes, or decelerate.
- Safety devices. Devices such as underride guards and side guards must be in working order to prevent smaller cars from jamming underneath the trailer.
If you have suffered injuries in a truck accident due to a defective part, you have the right to file a claim against a trucking company that has failed to inspect its truck regularly or has ignored a qualified inspector’s concerns. Further, the truck driver may be liable for your losses if they failed to complete daily inspection reports at the end of each workday.
Alcohol and Drug Testing
Attentive driving depends on having sufficient rest. It also requires the driver’s body and brain to be free of intoxicating substances. Drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs can cause deadly accidents. To maintain the safety of America’s roads and highways, the FMCSA requires trucking companies to test all full-time and part-time drivers who operate commercial trucks.
These tests must search for any evidence that the driver used:
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
- Methamphetamines and amphetamines
Companies must also ascertain whether any driver has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02 or higher.
FMCSA rules oblige companies to test their drivers at the following times:
- When hiring a new employee, before permitting them to operate a commercial vehicle
- After an accident that has led to a person’s death
- After an accident that has led to a person’s injury, but only if law enforcement has issued the driver a citation
- After an accident that has led to disabling damage to a motor vehicle, but only if law enforcement has issued the driver a citation
- If the company has reason to suspect that their employee is under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Before allowing an employee who has previously had a positive test to return to work
- At random intervals throughout each year
A refusal to submit to any drug test is legally equivalent to a positive test result. Employees who fail or refuse a drug test must not drive a commercial vehicle until they complete the required return-to-duty process.
If you have suffered injuries in a truck accident that may involve drug or alcohol use, you have the right to file a compensation claim against the allegedly intoxicated driver. Further, if the trucking company did not test their employee, you may also be eligible to seek compensation from the employer.
Federal regulations require transport companies to use proper packaging, marking, and labeling of all hazardous materials.
Companies that transport these substances must also hold a Hazardous Materials Safety Permit before they may legally carry:
- Radioactive materials
- Explosive materials above a certain quantity
- Liquified natural gas
- Compressed or refrigerated liquified methane
- Materials that are poisonous to inhale
Drivers who transport hazardous waste must also undergo a training program that addresses:
- Worksite dangers to health and safety
- Proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- How to use equipment safely
- Best practices for minimizing the risks of handling hazardous materials
Companies whose trucks transport hazardous materials must also carry additional insurance that covers the increased risk of danger.
Speak with an experienced California truck accident lawyer if you have suffered personal injuries in an accident involving hazardous materials. You may be eligible to file a claim against the driver, the company, or a third party.
Department of Transportation Medical Exams
The federal Department of Transportation (DOT) requires all drivers to undergo physical exams before they may obtain a commercial license. They must also submit to regular medical examinations with an FMCSA-approved examiner to maintain their license in good standing.
These exams should identify any medical problems that might prevent the driver from operating their vehicle safely, including:
- Head and brain injuries
- Eyesight issues
- Hearing issues
- Epilepsy or seizures
- Heart disease or heart attacks
- High blood pressure
- Respiratory issues
- Kidney disease
- Digestive issues
- Fainting issues
After completing a thorough physical examination, the examiner will fill out a medical certificate indicating:
- The driver is medically fit to operate a commercial vehicle for the next two years
- The driver requires medical monitoring as they continue their work for the next three, six, or twelve months
- The driver does not meet DOT’s required medical standards
The examiner will also note whether the driver requires the use of corrective lenses or a hearing aid to operate a truck safely.
If you have received injuries in a truck-related accident because of an undisclosed or unexamined medical condition on the part of the truck driver, you should consult an experienced truck accident attorney who can help you file a claim against the driver, the examiner, or the trucking company.
California State Trucking Regulations
In addition to federal regulations, each state has its own rules governing the operation of large commercial vehicles. Among the most important trucking regulations in California are the rules concerning weight limits.
California prohibits any vehicle from exceeding a total of 80,000 pounds. Further, a vehicle may only weigh 20,000 pounds per axle. Trucks that exceed this limit risk causing damage to the state’s roads. This is of particular concern when it comes to overpasses and bridges. These weight limits are also in place to ensure that drivers can maintain control of their vehicles. Vehicles exceeding the permissible limit risk the safety of their drivers and other road users.
A knowledgeable California truck accident attorney can help you determine whether a truck driver or company’s violation of state regulations may have led to your accident-related injuries.
How an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney Can Help
Suffering injuries in a truck accident can turn your life upside-down in an instant. When another party’s negligence has caused those injuries, you have the right to hold them accountable for your losses. Truck drivers and trucking companies who flout federal and state regulations put everybody’s lives in danger.
Filing a claim against them can help you recover compensation to address losses such as:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages if you missed work while recovering
- Property damage
- Reduced earning capacity
- Home assistance
- Pain and suffering
- Disability and disfigurement
- Loss of enjoyment of life
If you lost a loved one in a truck accident, you may file a wrongful death claim against those whose negligence caused your loss. You may receive compensation for funeral and burial expenses, the pain and suffering experienced while dying, lost income for your loved one’s dependents, and loss of companionship.
You should not pay for a crash caused by someone else. An experienced truck accident attorney could help you recover the compensation that you need to pay your bills, recoup lost income, repair or replace your vehicle, and move on with your life.