Articles Posted in Federal Regulations

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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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In Tennessee, drivers must follow state and local driving laws when operating their vehicles within state lines. Drivers of 18-wheelers and commercial trucks must follow these laws in addition to specific rules and safety regulations set forth by the U.S. Department of Transportation. These rules are known as Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSR”). Since commercial vehicles, tractor trailers and other big rig trucks are much larger in size than the cars that typical Tennesseans drive, trucking accidents are often investigated to determine what caused them and to see if any recommendations can be made to prevent them in the future.

On October 4, 2016, the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) met to discuss potential causes of a significant June 2015 trucking accident near Chattanooga, Tennessee that caused six fatalities. This accident, which occurred on an Interstate 75 work zone, involved nine vehicles and 18 people. Around 7:00 p.m., traffic was slowing down when a Cool Runnings Express, Inc. (“Cool Runnings”) tractor trailer rear ended a Toyota Prius. This began the chain reaction with the other seven vehicles. After investigating the crash, the NTSB blamed the Cool Runnings driver for causing the wreck because he failed to slow down in the work zone and instead drove through it at around 80 miles per hour.  According to the NTSB, fatigue and drug use affected the trucker’s conduct that night.

Proving a truck driver’s negligence can be accomplished, in part, by showing that he or she violated one or more federal regulation. Two sections would specifically apply to this accident, Sections 382 (drug use) and 395 (hours of service).  Under Section 382, truck drivers are expressly prohibited from operating their trucks while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, and drivers who violate this rule can face civil or criminal penalties. After being involved in an accident, a commercial truck driver must undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing.

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