Articles Posted in Federal Regulations

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Big rig trucks, 18-wheelers, and semi-trucks can be found all over our roads, highways and interstates. With trucks so prevalent in society, most people would be surprised to learn this fact: there is currently a shortage of at least 60,000 commercial truck drivers nationwide. One analyst even pegged the shortage to be at least 100,000. Some experts within the industry think the 60,000 shortage could actually triple by the year 2026.

Why the shortage, you may ask? Some experts cite an aging workforce, high turnover rates, and reduced capacity following certain regulatory changes. Lifestyle and safety concerns are also prompting truckers to leave the industry. For example, USA Today named the trucking industry as the 7th most dangerous occupation in the United States. In 2016, the industry saw 24.7 fatalities per 100 workers, and the most common injuries were overexertion and bodily reaction. This may have to do with the toll it takes on one’s body when working extended shifts and having to sit for long periods of time.

To combat the shortage, some trucking companies are forced to raise wages, sometimes as much as 15%. Others are offering generous signing bonuses to new employees. In the meantime, the American Trucking Association states the driver shortage is leading to delayed deliveries and higher prices. However, there are other ways in which a shortage of qualified commercial truck drivers can affect our well-being.

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At all times, drivers must exercise caution behind the wheel. This principle applies no matter what type of vehicle you are driving, no matter what day of the week, and no matter what time it is. Private citizens must also follow the rules of the road set forth by the city, county, and state within which the vehicle is being operated.  Interstate truck drivers, on the other hand, must also follow federal trucking regulations set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA is the “lead federal government agency responsible for providing safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs),” and its mission is “to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.”

In order to promote safe driving during inclement weather, the FMCSA lists five tips that truck drivers should take into account and follow.

  1. Reduce Your Driving Speed in Adverse Road and/or Weather Conditions
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It is well-known that accidents involving an 18-wheeler, semi-truck, or large commercial truck can produce dire consequences. Big rig trucks are significantly larger (in size and weight) than most private-passenger vehicles driven on the road. When a truck collides with a smaller car, occupants of the smaller car can suffer serious injuries that require extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation. While this is certainly true for impacts that occur at high speeds, the same can be said for impacts at low speeds, considering the size differential.

Of course, trucking accident victims should call the police to the scene and seek medical treatment for their injuries and pain. But what happens after that? How can a victim get reimbursed for medical bills, time off work, and other losses suffered? For many people, the only way to recover such losses is by asserting a claim against those responsible for the collision. If a commercial truck driver was at fault, a victim may be able to recover under a variety of legal theories.

Driver Negligence

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Accidents involving 18-wheelers can be complicated. These vehicles have become highly specialized in recent years, and drivers are supposed to go through proper training before being allowed to operate them on public roads. One such requirement is obtaining a valid Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). In certain circumstances, special endorsements are required, such as for those who drive trucks with double trailers, triple trailers, tanks, trucks carrying hazardous materials, and passenger vehicles. Elevated standards are in place for commercial truck drivers because accidents involving them can produce catastrophic injuries like paralysis, brain trauma, spinal cord damage, and permanent scarring.

Big trucking companies know how much is at stake following a catastrophic accident. They are known to expend significant resources into defending such claims from the outset. If a victim cannot obtain the proof needed to establish liability, that person may end up uncompensated for medical bills, time off from work, and the cost of future surgeries and medical treatment. Thus, it is critical to conduct a thorough investigation.

Of course, the facts of a truck accident itself should be examined by obtaining the police report and reaching out to independent witnesses. However, it is necessary to dig deeper, and hiring an experienced truck accident attorney can go a long way in ensuring critical information is uncovered and identified. The following information could be revealed through an investigation and prove useful during the case:

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An “underride accident” is when a car crashes into the rear or side of a semi-truck or tractor-trailer and ends up underneath. Trucking statistics show that over 200 people are killed in these types of wrecks each year. When a car slides underneath a trailer, sometimes the top of the vehicle is sheared off. If a victim is fortunate enough to survive the crash, that person may sustain serious and permanent injuries.

A product known as AngelWing is designed to protect vehicle occupants in case of a side collision with a large commercial truck. It is currently being tested. When functioning properly, the side guard “engages and deploys the vehicle’s built-in safety features such as airbags, anti-avoidance sensors, crumple zones or seat belts, designed to protect its occupants from possible injury or death.”

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), side guards on trucks would greatly reduce the risks of underride accidents. Currently, side guards are not required by law. Per a report by NBC News, the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, a lobbying group for the trucking industry, strongly opposes a formal requirement for side guards. Their reasons include additional cost, technical challenges, and concerns that the side guard would increase the truck’s weight to more dangerous levels.

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A driver can only be as good as the vehicle that he or she is operating. Even licensed, experienced, and well-rested truck drivers are dependent on their vehicles to effectively carry out their jobs. If something is wrong with their truck, such as a mechanical failure, it can cause problems for even the most experienced drivers. In turn, this puts members of the public in great danger of injury or even death.

Vehicle maintenance in the field of commercial trucking is crucial. These giant trucks and tractor-trailers take a beating when hauling heavy loads across the country. It should come as no surprise then that these vehicles require constant maintenance and upkeep to ensure that they run smoothly.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets forth rules and regulations regarding the upkeep of commercial vehicles in FMCSA Rules and Regulations § 396. Specifically, Regulation §396.3 states that all carriers must have a program in place to “systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.” This broad and ambiguous requirement leaves certain decisions of how to maintain a carrier’s fleet entirely on the carrier. It is up to the carrier to ensure that they comply with FMCSA regulations, and often, this lack of specificity can lead to inadequate maintenance.

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Operating large freight trucks, such as 18-wheelers, is no small task. The sheer size and weight of these vehicles make them extremely difficult to handle and navigate. The length of the cargo trailer makes it extremely difficult for the driver to see cars behind the vehicle, and side view mirrors can only help so much. All of these obstacles do not even account for poor weather. While it may be difficult for a truck driver to see under normal conditions, periods of fog or heavy rain make it nearly impossible unless the driver exhibits proper caution behind the wheel.

Recently, a fatal four car pileup involving a freight truck was attributed to low visibility and fog. Authorities reported that the trucker was attempting to pass another vehicle and collided head on with a pickup truck traveling in the other lane. Per the investigation, fog was so dense that there was basically no visibility. A passenger in the pickup truck was killed upon impact.

Visibility is a major component of trucking and safe driving in general. Even if a commercial truck or tractor-trailer is operated by a licensed, well-rested, experienced truck driver, fog and other low visibility environments can create dangerous conditions. Accidents like the one mentioned above are common and equally as dangerous as instances of vehicles colliding with trucks. Drivers unable to see large trucks could fall victim to override accidents in which their car gets completely run over by the 18-wheeler.

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In the United States, on average, eight people are killed and over 1,000 are injured every day in collisions that reportedly involve a distracted driver. Each person that engages in a distracting activity while driving, including the use of a cell phone, puts the lives of others on the road at risk.

This risk greatly increases when the distracted driver is operating a large vehicle, such as a semi-trailer truck. The weight and size of most semi-trailer trucks not only make them harder to stop, but also increase the likelihood that serious injury or death will occur if they are involved in a collision with a much smaller car or pedestrian.

A recent truck accident settlement reached in a federal court case in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina could encourage companies that own semi-trailer trucks to ban their drivers from using cell phones or other distracting devices while operating their vehicles. The settlement in question arose from an incident involving a semi-trailer truck that struck the back of a couple’s vehicle as they slowed to turn into their driveway. Phone records indicated that the driver of the semi-trailer truck was talking on his cell phone at the time of the accident. As a result of the collision, the couple filed suit against Unifi Inc., a North Carolina-based company that owned the semi-trailer truck.

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This winter, two were killed and more than a dozen were injured when a tanker truck skidded off of an icy Baltimore, Maryland highway and then exploded. All of this occurred on Interstate 95 on December 17, 2016. Earlier that morning, the National Weather Service had issued a freezing rain advisory and warned of slippery roads. Unfortunately, the tanker truck accident wasn’t the only crash that morning on Interstate 95. Related to the truck running off the interstate was a pileup that ended up affecting 55 cars. A total of 15 people were taken to the hospital with injuries. The interstate was shut down for hours as authorities responded and took control of the scene.

While wintry weather is something all drivers must pay adequate attention to, drivers of commercial trucks and 18-wheelers must pay particularly close attention. Trucking companies are required to properly train their drivers to handle inclement weather conditions. Part 392 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations states “extreme caution” is required in wintry weather situations, which include snow, ice, and sleet that affect a driver’s visibility or traction. For example, heavy trucks traveling too fast can easily skid when they encounter ice. This could cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle and run off the road or strike another car. When a driver encounters dangerous conditions, the federal trucking regulations first direct the driver to reduce speed. If conditions persist or worsen, the driver should discontinue use of the vehicle until the weather improves and the vehicle can be safely operated.

Icy weather could cause a truck to jackknife. As part of continuing truck driver education, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provides five tips for commercial truck drivers who may find themselves in bad weather while behind the wheel.

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Many commercial trucks and 18-wheelers carry waste and other hazardous materials. Toxic chemicals must be properly secured and transported so that they do not spill after an accident or rollover crash. Just before 3:00 a.m. on December 14, 2016, a commercial semi-truck that was carrying hazardous materials crashed into another truck on Interstate 24 in Rutherford County, Tennessee. This impact caused the truck to overturn followed by a toxic chemical spill onto the highway. According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the truck was carrying chemical cleaners such as chlorine tablets, oxidizers, and other corrosives. After the crash, the truck and the released chemicals caught on fire.

This accident occurred near Buchanan Estates, a Rutherford County neighborhood with around 150 homes. Local law enforcement officers initially instructed all residents within a 1 mile radius of the wreck to stay indoors, as the flames from the fire were potentially toxic. Officials also expressed concerned about the wind pushing the fumes farther from the site and affecting more even people. As law enforcement began to clean up the spill by dumping water on the chemicals, all residents and business owners were told to evacuate the area until it was safe to return.

Exposure to chemicals or toxic waste can be extremely dangerous. Hazardous materials that commercial trucks transport can include radioactive materials, explosives, toxic waste, certain cleaning products, and methane. People can be exposed to these materials in many ways, including through the air or water supply. Exposure can cause significant and permanent injuries that may initially go undetected. Side effects may include cancer, respiratory disease, and developmental problems in children. If a pregnant woman is exposed to toxic or hazardous waste, the child may be born with birth defects.

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