Overview of Federal Trucking Regulations

There are many federal and state regulations with which those in the trucking industry must comply. If you have a question about trucking regulations or were involved in a trucking accident, contact an experienced lawyer today.

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Overview of Federal Trucking Regulations

Those involved in the trucking industry must abide by numerous federal and state regulations. The applicable federal laws can be found in the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (found in 49 C.F.R. §§ 350-399). These regulations are very important, but they are extensive and can be confusing. An experienced lawyer at Breslin & Breslin, P.A. in Hackensack, New Jersey, can explain these regulations and how they may affect your truck accident case.

The information below summarized the provisions that are more common in truck accident litigation.

Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing

Testing of drivers for controlled substances and alcohol use is governed by 49 C.F.R. § 382.107. This section establishes programs by which trucking companies can work to prevent accidents by using drug/alcohol testing. With limited exceptions, these testing regulations apply to all American commercial vehicle drivers and their employers. Under this provision, all commercial driver's license (CDL) holders are to submit to mandatory, periodic testing if they drive a vehicle:

  • With a gross vehicle weight of 26,000 pounds or more
  • With a gross vehicle weight of more than 26,000 pounds including a towed unit or trailer weighing 10,000 pounds or more
  • Capable of carrying 16 or more passengers
  • Designed and used to transport hazardous materials

Commercial Driver's License Standards; Requirements and Penalties

Generally, drivers must have a CDL if they drive a vehicle that has a gross combination weight or weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds, has a gross vehicle weight or weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds, is designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) or is used to carry hazardous materials. See 49 C.F.R. § 383.5 for more information. Drivers must be knowledgeable about the various procedures that ensure safe operation of vehicles and be told about the negative effects of driving while fatigued, poor vision, alcohol or drug use and improper use of the bus/truck's lights, horns, mirrors and other emergency equipment. These requirements are designed to reduce or prevent truck and bus accidents by forcing CDL holders to have special knowledge of their oversize vehicles.

Qualification of Drivers

If a driver operates a tractor trailer or other commercial vehicle that weighs over 10,000 pounds, carries 16 or more passengers or transports hazardous materials, he or she must comply with certain provisions set forth in 49 C.F.R. § 391.11. Under this regulation, commercial drivers must:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Be able to speak, read and understand English
  • Be physically able to safely operate their truck
  • Be in possession of a valid CDL
  • Have a driving record free from license revocation or suspension for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, committing a felony, leaving the scene of an accident or refusing to take an alcohol test

Driving of Commercial Motor Vehicles

Under 49 C.F.R. § 392, a truck driver, the trucking company and all other people responsible for the management, maintenance, operation or driving of any commercial motor vehicles or the hiring, supervision, training or dispatching of drivers must comply with federal regulations in order to operate a tractor trailer, tanker, straight truck or other commercial vehicle in interstate travel. Drivers must not drive while sick or tired and may not drive while under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs or other intoxicating substances (even those for which the driver has an otherwise valid prescription). Drivers must obey traffic laws, load cargo safely, perform periodic inspections and drive cautiously in hazardous conditions. They must also be prepared to take special precautions around railroad crossings if towing a trailer or hauling hazardous materials. Furthermore, they should never, barring an emergency, shift gears while crossing railroad tracks.

Parts and Accessories Necessary for Safe Operation

The purpose of 49 C.F.R. § 393 is to make sure that no employee or employer of a commercial motor vehicle company drives a truck or allows one to be driven unless the truck complies with the minimum equipment requirements. There are specific regulatory provisions dealing with nearly every aspect of a commercial truck, including: lighting devices and reflectors, brakes, brake performance, tires, emergency equipment, protection against shifting or falling cargo, cargo securement systems (blocking and bracing, tie-downs, fasteners, etc.), front-end structure, frames, doors, hood, seats, bumpers, wheels, sleeper berths, steering wheels and suspensions.

Hours of Service for Drivers

49 C.F.R. § 395 contains a number of restrictions related to the hours that a driver is permitted to drive in a given day as well as in a given work week. There are also separate regulations regarding the time spent driving in hazardous weather conditions.

From the time a driver begins work (or is required to be ready to work) until the time the driver is relieved from all responsibility for performing the essential functions of his or her job is known as "on-duty" time. On-duty time includes:

  • Time waiting to be dispatched
  • Time inspecting, servicing or conditioning any commercial motor vehicle at any time
  • Driving time (this is defined as "all time spent at the driving controls of a commercial motor vehicle in operation")
  • Time in or on a commercial motor vehicle (other than time spent resting in or on a parked vehicle, time spent resting in a sleeper berth or up to two hours riding in the passenger seat of a property-carrying vehicle moving on the highway immediately before or after a period of at least eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth)
  • Time loading or unloading a commercial motor vehicle
  • Time repairing, obtaining assistance for or remaining in attendance with a disabled commercial motor vehicle
  • Time spent providing a breath sample or urine specimen (if requested to comply with random, reasonable suspicion, post-crash or follow-up testing)
  • Time performing any other work in the capacity, employ or service of a motor carrier
  • Time spent performing any compensated work for a person who is not a motor carrier

Inspection, Repair and Maintenance

The provisions set forth in 49 C.F.R. § 396 ensure that all parts of certain commercial vehicles are kept in proper working order, regularly inspected and maintained according to guidelines. No driver is permitted to operate a vehicle that is likely to break down or cause an accident. Furthermore, drivers are responsible for inspecting their trucks at the start of each driving day and reporting or repairing any discovered defects.

Transportation of Hazardous Materials

Drivers responsible for transporting hazardous materials, motor carriers involved in the transport of such goods and supervisory employees of said motor carriers are subject to the provisions set forth in 49 C.F.R. § 397. Generally, the driver of a commercial motor vehicle that is carrying explosives cannot leave the vehicle unattended unless there is an emergency. There are also restrictions about where a driver carrying explosive materials can park, and no smoking is allowed within 25 feet of a truck containing explosives or flammable materials.

Speak to a trucking accident lawyer

The information provided above is merely a general overview of some of the most common federal regulations and regulatory provisions that can be at issue in truck accident litigation. Legislative guidance on the transportation industry is both complex and voluminous. It can be very difficult to decipher and apply these myriad federal and state regulations without experience. For more information about these and other regulations, and how they could potentially affect your truck accident case, contact an experienced truck accident attorney at Breslin & Breslin, P.A. in Hackensack, New Jersey.

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