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Understanding truck accident law

Taking a look at Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR)

No matter where you live, all motor vehicles must comply with the basic traffic laws in the state in which that vehicle is operating. Trucks and other commercial motor vehicles not only have to follow these same rules of the road, but they also have to follow additional federal and/or state laws and regulations specific to trucking. These regulations don’t only cover driving practices. They cover just about every aspect of the commercial motor vehicle world.

Who and what falls under trucking regulations?

All non-exempt commercial motor vehicles that cross state lines, including big-rig trucks, are subject to the federal motor carrier safety regulations. If these semi-trucks are operating within one state, they need to abide by state-equivalent motor carrier safety regulations. The intent of the regulations is to cover all persons and entities involved in operating commercial vehicles, including:

  • Drivers
  • Hiring managers
  • Trainers
  • Supervisors
  • Managers
  • Dispatchers

Other people whose action affects drivers and commercial motor vehicles

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) set forth minimum standards for those involved with the operation of commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce, in order to cover all people and entities involved in interstate operation of these trucks.

Defining who is covered by the FMCSRs

The FMCSRs define who and what is covered very broadly. Some instances include:

  • Employee: To avoid gamesmanship with the age-old issues that arise when defining employees versus independent contractors, the definition of “employee” under the FMCSR explicitly includes “all independent contractors while in the course of operating a commercial motor vehicle.”
  • Employer: Likewise, the definition of “employer” is much broader than is typically found in the law to include “any person engaged in a business affecting interstate commerce, who owns or leases a commercial motor vehicle in connection with that business, or assigns employees to operate it.”
  • Others: The FMCSR reach beyond motor carriers and drivers in a number of ways, including making it illegal for any person to “aid, abet, encourage, or require a motor carrier or its employees to violate” the rules.

Pleading ignorance of trucking laws is not an option

To ensure that no one claims the “gee, I just didn’t know about that regulation” defense, the regulations expressly require that all motor carriers and all employees responsible for the management, maintenance, operation, or driving of commercial motor vehicles, or the hiring, supervising, training, assigning, or dispatching for drivers, be trained on the regulations and comply with them. To get motor carrier authority to begin with, an applicant must certify that he or she understands the regulations and agrees to put in place adequate management procedures to require compliance with the regulations.

Moreover, as a general rule, wherever the regulations put a duty on the driver of an 18 wheeler or other commercial vehicle, they also put an associated duty on the motor carrier for which the driver is working to ensure proper training on the requirement and to ensure that appropriate management systems are in place to monitor compliance.

Other trucking regulations covered by the FMCSRs

In addition to being broad in terms of who and what is covered by the FMCSRs, the FMCSRs are also broad in regards to the areas covered by the regulations. For example, there are regulations that address:

  • Commercial driver’s license requirements
  • Commercial driver qualification
  • Driving a commercial motor vehicle
  • Parts and accessories necessary for safe operation
  • Maximum permissible hours of service
  • Inspection and maintenance requirements
  • Hazardous materials
  • Substance abuse and testing
  • Minimum insurance requirements
  • Preservation of records
  • Lease and interchange of vehicles
  • Brokers
  • Rules of practice for motor carrier, intermodal equipment provider, broker and freight forwarder

Within each of these regulatory sections, the regulations impose particular duties and requirements.

It is important to understand that as broad as the FMCSRs are, many of them do not prescribe specific methodologies to comply with specific duties. Over the decades, trucking industry practices have evolved and there are industry practices that are considered best practices and/or industry standards. So, it is important to understand not only the regulations, but also how the industry has responded to the regulations in the form of management and operational practices.

Trust an accident attorney familiar with trucking laws

While it is important for you to educate yourself about trucking laws, there are a lot of nuances of the law – especially when it comes to big rig accidents and liability – that you need an experienced attorney to interpret. Call (844) 283-0656 or complete our contact form to speak with one of our experienced truck accident attorneys today. There is no fee or obligation for your initial consultation.

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