Federal Truck Driving Laws

What Are The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations?

Federal Truck Driving Laws

In the wrong hands, a truck or tractor trailer can quickly become a deadly weapon. Any trucking accident lawyers in Georgia can rely on will tell you that that’s why the federal government writes rules for truck drivers and trucking companies. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) are a set of rules governing driving hours, drug and alcohol testing requirements, vehicle maintenance, transportation of hazardous materials, and other aspects of truck safety. If a truck driver or trucking company ignores these rules, we know how to hold them accountable.

In this video clip, Butler Kahn cross-examines a trucking company’s “Safety Director” about the excessive hours that his truck drivers were spending on the road. When companies send their drivers out for too many hours of driving at at time, drivers can get tired and get sloppy. By sending their drivers out for too long, the company is not only violating federal law, but is putting other people on the road at risk.

Hours of Service

Fatigued drivers are more likely to make mistakes, which is why the FMCSR include rules related to “hours of service.” Truck drivers are only permitted to drive so many hours before taking a break or getting some sleep. Drivers must comply with these hours-of-service rules if they engage in interstate commerce and drive a truck meeting one of the following descriptions:

  • Weighs 10,001 pounds or more, including cargo
  • Has a gross vehicle weight of 10,001 pounds or more
  • Transports hazardous materials in quantities great enough to require a placard
  • Meets other federal regulatory threshholds

The FMCA regulates the number of hours truckers are allowed to drive within a certain amount of time. One of the most important rules is the 14-hour driving window, which limits commercial drivers from driving more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period. Once the 14-hour period ends, a truck driver must go off duty for 10 consecutive hours.

Drivers are also limited to 60 to 70 hours of duty in a period of seven or eight days. If a trucking company does not operate vehicles seven days per week, then company drivers cannot drive commercial vehicles for more than 60 hours in seven consecutive days. If the company operates vehicles seven days per week, drivers are not allowed to drive commercial vehicles after being on duty for 70 hours in eight consecutive days. There is a legal way for drivers and their employees to get around the 60/70-hour rule. If a driver is off duty or in the sleeper berth of the truck for at least 34 hours, the clock resets. Finally, trucks are required to take a 30-minute break within the first 8 hours of their shift.

When drivers do not follow these rules, serious accidents are more likely to occur. One of the most notable examples in recent memory is the case of the driver who crashed into a limousine van carrying Tracy Morgan and another comedian. The driver, who had been awake for 28 hours prior to the crash, did not slow down when he should have and slammed into the other vehicle. Wal-Mart settled with Tracy Morgan for an undisclosed sum.

In this video clip, Butler Kahn cross-examines a trucking company’s “Safety Director” about the excessive hours that his truck drivers were spending on the road. When companies send their drivers out for too many hours of driving at at time, drivers can get tired and get sloppy. By sending their drivers out for too long, the company is not only violating federal law, but is putting other people on the road at risk.

Motor Vehicle Inspection

FMCSR § 396 requires periodic inspection of commercial motor vehicles to ensure the vehicles are safe to operate. During the inspection, the following components must be inspected:

  • Service Brakes
  • Windshield Wipers
  • Rims
  • Steering column
  • Wheels
  • Windshield Glazing
  • Suspension
  • Lights and reflectors
  • Tires
  • Safety devices
  • Vacuum systems

The inspector must look for any defects that would impair the safe operation of the vehicle. For example, if the brake pads are worn down, there is a risk the driver won’t be able to stop the vehicle in time to avoid an accident. If a trucking company does not inspect vehicles as required, or ignores an inspector’s concerns, the company should be held responsible for any accidents that occur as a result of defective or damaged parts. Annual inspections must be conducted by qualified inspectors who understand the requirements outlined in § 393 of the FMCSA.

Under § 396.11, commercial drivers are required to complete daily inspection reports when they finish driving for the day. The report must identify the vehicle and list any problems that came up during the inspection. Motor carriers must certify that all defects and deficiencies have been repaired.

If you’ve been in an accident and have questions regarding federal truck driving laws, contact the trucking accident lawyers in Georgia, locals trusts. Call Butler Kahn, today.

Alcohol and Drug Testing

Any trucking accident lawyer in GA relies upon will tell you that commercial vehicles must be operated by trained, attentive drivers. If a driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol, the results can be deadly. In 1991, Congress passed the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act, which required all Department of Transportation (DOT) agencies to implement testing rules for employees with safety-sensitive duties. Under the FMCSA, trucking companies must test any driver who operates a commercial truck. The testing requirements are the same whether the employee works full-time or part-time.

DOT drug tests require testing for the following drugs:

  • Cocaine
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamines and amphetamines
  • Opiates

DOT drug tests also identify drivers with blood alcohol concentrations of 0.02 or higher.

Under FMCSA rules, trucking companies must perform drug tests at the following times:

  1. Before allowing a new employee to operate a commercial vehicle
  2. After an accident causing a human fatality
  3. After an accident causing immediate bodily injury requiring medical treatment away from the scene, but only if a citation is issued to the driver
  4. After an accident causing disabling damage to any motor vehicle, but only if a citation is issued to the driver
  5. If there is reasonable suspicion that a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  6. Before permitting a driver who previously tested positive to return to duty
  7. At random intervals throughout the year

If a driver refuses to submit to a drug test, the refusal is equivalent to receiving a positive test result. Therefore, the driver must be removed from performing any safety-sensitive functions until he or she completes the return-to-duty process.

Drug testing guidelines are in place for a reason. Drugs and alcohol impair judgment and reasoning skills, and they often play a role in fatal accidents. If a trucking company does not test employees as required, or if a driver causes an accident while under the influence, the trucking accident lawyers at Butler Law know how to review the accident report and take action against those responsible for your injuries.

Hazardous Materials

Hazardous materials must be packaged, marked, and labeled correctly before they are transported via commercial vehicle. Each motor carrier must also obtain a Hazardous Materials Safety Permit before transporting highly hazardous materials. This permit is required to transport radioactive materials, certain quantities of explosive materials, liquefied natural gas, compressed or refrigerated liquefied methane, or certain materials that are poisonous if inhaled.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also has training requirements for drivers who haul hazardous waste. The required training must address the following:

  • The presence of safety and health hazards at the work site
  • Proper use of personal protective equipment
  • Safe use of equipment and engineering controls
  • Work practices to help employees minimize the risks associated with handling hazardous materials

Trucks transporting hazardous materials must also carry additional insurance.

DOT Medical Exams

To obtain a commercial driver’s license and maintain that license in good standing, commercial drivers must submit to physical exams as required by the Department of Transportation. Every DOT medical exam must be performed by one of the qualified examiners listed on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration National Registry.

These DOT exams are not as rigorous as they sound.  Often, the examinations—which are supposed to test eyesight, hearing, blood pressure, and many other health indicators—are performed by chiropractors.  Often, these chiropractors don’t even have their own offices.  The chiropractors frequently rent office space inside a truck stop, where they may see hundreds or thousands of truck drivers per year.  Of course the chiropractors have an incentive to let drivers ‘pass’—if word gets out that a chiropractor ‘failed’ a truck driver’s exam, other drivers might not go to that chiropractor anymore.

As designed, DOT exams are supposed to identify physical and psychological problems that affect a driver’s ability to operate a commercial vehicle in a safe manner. Before having a DOT exam, a commercial driver should provide a complete health history to the examiner. DOT examiners should ask about the following medical problems:

  • Head and brain injuries
  • Eye problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Epilepsy/seizures
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Implantable medical devices
  • High blood pressure
  • Respiratory problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Strokes

During this type of physical, the examiner should administer vision and hearing tests, record the driver’s blood pressure and pulse, and perform a thorough physical examination. Upon completion of the physical, the examiner fills out a medical certificate for the driver. The certificate indicates whether the driver qualifies for a two-year certificate, qualifies for a certificate with periodic monitoring required, or does not meet the standards for receiving a DOT medical certificate.

If periodic monitoring is required, the driver may be qualified for three months, six months, one year, or another period of time specified by the examiner. Additionally, the examiner must indicate whether the driver needs to wear a hearing aid or corrective lenses to operate a commercial vehicle safely. Upon completion of the physical, the examiner should keep a copy of the medical certificate for three years.

Required Forms and Certificates

The DOT requires trucking companies to obtain a variety of forms when interviewing and hiring drivers. For example, motor carriers are required to fill out the Request for Check of Driving Records before allowing a driver to operate a commercial vehicle. Trucking companies must also contact previous employers to verify the employment history provided by an applicant. Motor carriers or commercial drivers may also need to fill out the following firms:

  • Certification of Road Test
  • Certification of Compliance with Driver License Requirements
  • Driver Statement of On-Duty Hours
  • Driver Qualification and Identification Certificate

The rules governing commercial vehicles are in place for a reason: a commercial vehicle can easily injure or kill innocent crash victims. Large vehicles are also capable of causing significant property damage.

If you were injured in a truck accident, we can’t take away your injuries or restore your vehicle to its pre-accident condition, but at Butler Kahn, the trucking accident lawyers in GA drivers trust can help you hold the truck driver and trucking company responsible.

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