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Truck accident litigation tip No 2: Use the FMSCA checklist

Written by Steve Gursten Posted September 1st, 2016

When truck lawyers take advantage of several checklists provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, no safety violation will slip through the cracks


Recently, we kicked off our series of truck accident litigation tips for injury attorneys with Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable co-founder Steve Gursten’s primary piece of advice: Start the lawsuit with the actual end in mind and be prepared to take it to trial. Today we’re continuing our series by discussing the importance of taking advantage of several checklists provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The FMCSA is kind enough to publish several checklists that make your job as a truck accident attorney easier if you use them. The first, as you will see below, is a listing of all the safety violations contained in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).

Each safety violation is weighed to determine how likely a violation will be to cause a crash. The higher the points (points range in severity from 1-10), the more likely a truck wreck. You should review the list at the start of each case and during discovery to make sure you’re not missing an FMSCR violation.

Don’t forget to use the Commercial Vehicle Preventable Accident Manual

In addition, there’s the Commercial Vehicle Preventable Accident Manual: A Guide to Countermeasures. This book is produced for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. The manual shows the primary causes of commercial vehicle accidents and the countermeasures that should have been used to avoid them. The focus is on safety management, preventive maintenance, and defensive driving. This manual is available from J.J. Keller Associates, Inc. for $18.39. It’s best to purchase the book for full knowledge.

Checklist for preventing trucking wrecks in adverse conditions

Here’s a typical section from the Preventable Accident Manual (References to FMCSR violated by the driver act are shown at the end of the section):

DRIVING IN ADVERSE CONDITIONS B11 COUNTERMEASURE Objective: To prevent accidents by developing the driver skills and judgment necessary to operate vehicle safely during adverse traction and visibility conditions.

Description: Failure to adjust to adverse conditions is a major factor in accident causation. The adverse conditions most frequently encountered cause reduced traction and reduced visibility. Reduced traction conditions include rain, snow, ice, slush and gravel. Reduced visibility conditions include twilight, darkness, rain, snow and fog. Drivers should not only develop the skills and judgment necessary to keep their own vehicle safely under control, they should also try to anticipate and be prepared to compensate for errors other drivers make during such poor driving conditions.

Questions for Management:

  1. Does the driver know how to judge safe speed on slippery surfaces?
  2. Does the driver know what causes jackknifing and how to prevent it?
  3. Have drivers ever been trained to safely maneuver on slippery surfaces? How? When? By whom?
  4. Is there a safe off-road area available to drivers for practicing vehicle handling on slippery surfaces?
  5. How do trip schedules take into account the effect of inclement weather?
  6. Should tire chains be used in severe weather conditions?

Maintenance Checks:

  • Tire tread wear and tire pressure. Availability of tire chains when needed.
  • Windshield wiper and washer condition. Mirror system.
  • Proper functioning of all lighting circuits, Headlight beam aim, including emergency flashers.

Driving Tips:

Reduced traction conditions:

  • Increase following distance enough to avoid a rear-end collision if other driver brakes hard.
  • Use moderation in judging safe speed. To maintain a safe stopping distance, slow down, but not so much that you become a hazard to drivers behind.
  • Apply brakes gently and steer without jerky movements.
  • Beware when running empty or bobtailing. Lightly loaded wheels lock up easily during braking and this induces jackknifing.
  • Beware of travelling too slowly on slick, banked curves. The vehicle might slide sideways into opposing traffic or off the road.

Reduced visibility conditions:

  • Use moderation in judging safe speed. To maintain a safe stopping distance during reduced visibility, slow down, but not so much that you become a hazard to drivers behind. Keep vehicle clean, especially headlights, windshield, tail lights. Use emergency flashers in extreme conditions.
  • Be prepared to get off road and wait for conditions to improve if necessary.

References: FMCSR Part 392.14, Part 383 Subpart G. D1.


Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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