Trucking companies are responsible for hiring and supervising properly licensed, qualified drivers. Under this supervision, truckers are required to adhere to regulations that establish maximum driving and on-duty times. Truckers are supposed to keep accurate, detailed driving logs showing when they are on the road and when they are down. What this means after a trucking accident is a significant amount of investigation. We want to learn everything possible about the truck, including its maintenance history and “black box” data. We also look into the driver’s background, driving record, and log books. Finally, we need to know all facets of the accident itself and may need to consult a reconstruction expert to determine exactly what happened. The principal rules governing trucking carriers and their truckers are the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations govern practically every aspect of interstate trucking in an effort to improve safety on the road. Despite these mandatory rules, it is always surprising how many trucking companies and/or independent truck operators still violate same. Even with sophisticated monitoring devices built into trucks, drivers and owners try to “beat the system” and hide their deception. They claim that rising fuel and maintenance costs force them to “cheat.” Sadly, when these rules are not followed, innocent people on the road suffer catastrophic injury and death. These regulations govern: 1) the hiring process and requirements, 2) annual safety reviews for the drivers, 3) inspection and maintenance requirements for the trucks and trailers, 4) the number of hours a driver is allowed to safely drive, 5) alcohol and drug testing, 6) safety equipment and procedures for roadside breakdowns, and 7) how long the trucking company must retain their records.
I. The Hiring Process:
Section 391.21 mandates trucking companies to maintain a “driver qualification” file. As part of that file, they are required to review and document an applicant’s:
a) prior driver’s licenses;
b) prior experience;
c) all accidents during the prior three years and any injuries caused;
d) all traffic tickets for the past 3 years;
e) all prior license suspension(s);
f) all prior employers for the prior 3 years and reason for leaving.
Trucking companies are required to send out faxes to prior employers to confirm whether the applicant driver had any safety or substance abuse issues. Smaller trucking companies often ignore these safety requirements out of ignorance or cost considerations. The result is unsafe truck drivers on the road. Trucking companies are also required to send a request to the department of motor vehicles for a 3 year driving record, and this request is supposed to be updated every year on the hiring date anniversary. But again, many carriers simply do not maintain or check these records. Finally, all trucking companies are required to provide a medical examination to make sure drivers do not have any medical condition which would make them dangerous on the road. Heart conditions, prior seizure activity, or eye conditions are some of the specific areas tested. But again, with rising operating costs and narrower profit margins, even these mandates are being eliminated despite the consequences.
The following offenses under Section 391.15 are supposed to prohibit a trucking company from hiring or retaining an affected truck driver:
II. Annual Safety Reviews:
Under §391.25, trucking companies are required to conduct an annual review a trucker’s record including:
(a) requesting from the DMV the MVA for each driver;
(b) sit down with the driver and review their driving record every year;
c) determine whether a driver has violated any traffic laws, especially speeding, reckless driving, and operating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
III. Inspection and Maintenance:
Under §396.3, trucking companies are required to”…systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles…” and are supposed to keep records of what was inspected, by whom, and when for at least 1 year. In addition to these company requirements, the driver is also supposed to conduct a pre-trip inspection before every trip. There are strict requirements for post-trip inspections as well. Under §396.11, the company shall require the driver to prepare a written report at the completion of each day’s work on each vehicle operated. The report has to cover brakes, steering, lighting and reflectors, tires, horn, windshield wipers, mirrors, wheels and rims, as well as any emergency equipment.
IV. Number of Hours Allowed to Legally Drive:
Truck drivers involved in interstate commerce are supposed to only drive a limited number of hours per day and total per week. These rules were promulgated to promote better safety by keeping overly fatigued drivers off the road. The rules are confusing, and drivers and their companies are always trying to develop new ways to “beat the system.” If the rig is sitting, they are “losing money.” Nevertheless, section 395.3 mandates that truck drivers cannot legally drive more than 11 cumulative hours following 10 consecutive hours off duty. They also cannot drive for any period after the end of the 14th hour after coming on duty following 10 consecutive hours off duty. If looking at the total work week, a driver should not drive if they have been on duty 60 hours in any 7 consecutive days or having been on duty 70 hours in any period of 8 consecutive days if the employing motor carrier operates commercial motor vehicles every day of the week. This provision does reset if there are 34 hours of consecutive rest. Truck drivers are required to record their hours of service every day. Larger trucking companies record and transmit this data electronically, but many smaller carriers still use paper logs which can be fabricated. An experienced trucking lawyer will compare the logs to the dispatch records to determine if there are discrepancies.