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What are hazmat trucking regulations?

Written by Steve Gursten Posted July 10th, 2013

Transporting dangerous materials implicates additional duties and requirements under the FMCSRs in addition to those governing general commercial transportation

Hazmat trucking regulations

I recently came across this story on about a bad truck accident in Texas involving hazardous materials.  A truck driver was transporting hazardous material – battery solutions – when he drove his vehicle off an overpass. The truck crashed on the roadway below and spilled fuel and battery solution across the roadway.

The truck driver suffered non-life threatening injuries and was taken from the scene to the hospital.  Thankfully, nobody else was injured in this scary hazmat truck crash.

At this point, it’s not clear to what degree the truck driver or the trucking company that owned and operated the hazmat truck will be liable for damages and cleanup costs.  But it is worth noting that there are certain duties and obligations that exist when a truck driver or truck company is transporting hazardous materials under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) hazmat trucking regulations.

These additional regulations are often above and beyond those regulations that apply to regular cargo transport.

For example, states have the right to designate certain roads upon which hazardous cargos cannot be driven pursuant to the FMCSRs. (§ 397.69).  These restrictions can be made only after the state makes “a finding, supported by [a] record” made in compliance with the federal regulations, that public safety will be enhanced.  (§ 391.71). If the finding is sufficient, then truck drivers transporting hazardous materials may not operate their trucks on these routes.

This power is not limited only to the states; American Indian tribes can do this as well.

There are other regulations that apply specifically to truckers moving hazardous materials too:

  • A truck driver may not park his vehicle within five feet of a “traveled portion of a public street or highway,” (§ 397.3(a)(1)).
  • A truck driver may not even park on private property unless the owner of the property has (1) knowledge of the contents, (2) knowledge that the truck intends to park there, and (3) has given consent to the trucker.  (§ 397.7(a)(2)).

This is a divergence from the parking rules governing transportation of non –hazardous cargo.  For example, a truck driver is free to park within 5 feet of a traveled public street or highway for “brief periods when the necessities of operation” so require.  There is generally nothing stopping a trucker from parking on private property either.

Truck drivers monitoring hazmat trucks

Truck drivers are required to monitor semi-trucks transporting certain classes of hazardous materials at all times, with limited exceptions under § 397.5(a) of the FMCSA Safety Regulations.  This is a very stringent requirement.

For example, the truck is considered unattended if the truck driver is asleep in the cab. To be “attended,” the person in charge of the vehicle must be “on the vehicle, awake, and not in sleeper berth,” or must be within 100 feet of the vehicle and have a “clear unobstructed field of view.”  (§ 397.5(d)(1)).

At first glance, this seems odd given that truck drivers are also mandated to take breaks from driving to sleep. This is where the exceptions come into play.

Hazardous cargo is considered “attended” for purposes of the regulations if a “qualified representative” is attending the truck while the trucker rests.  (§ 397.5(a)).  A qualified representative is a person who:

  1. Has been designated to attend the truck,
  2. Knows that the truck contains hazardous cargo,
  3. Has been instructed in emergency procedures, and
  4. Is authorized to move the vehicle and has the means and ability to do so.  (§ 397.5(d)(2)).

The truck is also considered “attended” when it is parked on the trucking company’s property, or the property of the “shipper or cosignee” of the cargo.  (§ 397.5(b)(1)).

These are just a few of the duties imposed on trucking companies and truck drivers who transport hazardous materials.  This is an area that is heavily regulated by the FMCSA.

So, truck companies and truckers who are transporting hazardous materials make must make sure to consult the Safety Regulations and follow them to a tee. These materials make a semi-truck that much more deadly.

Here’s a list of dangerous goods which are regulated by the hazardous materials safety regulations.

Related information:

Additional laws that play a role in truck accident cases

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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.