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.
To prevent a breach of the FMCSA Regulations regarding maintenance of a carrier’s fleet, it’s necessary to first determine how often to inspect a fleet.This includes contacting the original manufacturer of the vehicle in order properly gauge the parameters of inspection. This step also includes setting up “cut-off points” for major components of the vehicle. A cut-off point is essentially a deadline for maintenance or replacement of a piece of a truck. For instance, brake linings could be maintained biannually for a period of five years, and after those five years, a carrier will replace the old, worn down brake linings with new ones.
After developing a timeframe, it’s vital to keep maintenance records that detail all instances of inspection. Not only does this practice provide for up to date records, but it can also be used as an auditing tool to show that regular inspections were taking place on a commercial vehicle. Often times, the lack of an inspection record can help an injured plaintiff prove that a trucking company was negligent and liable for damages following an 18-wheeler accident.
A tragic example of inadequate maintenance occurred recently when two large trucks carrying logs collided head-on in Mississippi. Both trucks were hauling large loads when the truck traveling northbound lost control and veered into the southbound lane. The wreck caused one the 18-wheelers to explode in flames, and the driver had to be airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Investigators believe that the crash was caused by mechanical steering problems. If the investigators’ hunch is correct, then this tragic accident may have been prevented had the faulty steering been detected through proper maintenance.
The FMCSA requires carriers to inspect and maintain their commercial vehicles in a manner consistent with all rules and regulations. The purpose of these inspections is to protect the public from trucking accidents caused by a carrier’s negligence in maintaining its fleet. If the inadequate upkeep of a commercial vehicle was the cause of a truck crash that injured you or a loved one, call the attorneys at Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz today at 1-800-529-4004 for a free consultation.