The most recent data from Nebraska’s Department of Transportation (NDOT) estimates that approximately 1,200 traffic crashes involving semi-trucks—including more than 350 crashes that resulted in injuries and 23 fatal crashes—occurred on Nebraska roads during 2017. Although these numbers are alarming, they represent an overall decrease from previous years. Public safety concerns led to the continued development and enforcement of trucking regulations on a federal level; the truck drivers who pilot massive semis down Nebraska’s roads and highways are subject to increasingly tight federal regulations. Yet, even with these regulations in place, truckers and trucking companies don’t always comply or prioritize safety.
When a trucker or trucking company fails to comply with federal regulations, it may cause an accident that leads to severe, catastrophic, or fatal injuries. Truck accidents are among the most severe due to the fact that the average big rig weighs between 20 to 30 times more than the average motor vehicle. If you sustained an injury in a truck accident, you should call the skilled legal team at the Robert Pahlke Law Group at (308) 633-4444 to schedule a free consultation and to learn about the ways that we might be able to help you after a trucking accident.
Who Regulates the Trucking Industry?
The U.S. Department of Transportation has a division dedicated entirely to regulating the trucking industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which has the mission to “reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.” The FMCSA has been around since 2000; its creation was part of the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999. According to its website, the FMCSA carries out its mission with four main strategies:
- Developing and enforcing data-driven regulations that balance safety and efficiency
- Use safety information systems to target high-risk carriers for enforcement
- Use education to spread messages about safety to trucking companies, drivers, and the public
- Collaborate with all levels of law enforcement, the trucking industry, safety groups, and unions to reduce accidents
Many FMCSA regulations target specific behaviors that have historically led to truck accidents and—in many cases—remain risk factors for truck drivers and those with whom they share the road. Examples include driving while fatigued, driving while distracted, driving under the influence, and not properly maintaining a truck. Below, we address each one of these hot topic regulatory issues in depth.
Hours of Service Regulations for Truckers
Truck drivers are responsible for transporting raw and finished goods across the nation. Their demanding schedules include long days, driving overnight, and driving in inclement weather to make on-time pickups and deliveries. In an effort to combat truck driver fatigue and ensure that truckers get the rest they need while on the job, the FMCSA developed Hours of Service (HOS) regulations for truck drivers. Failure to comply with the following HOS guidelines puts truckers and other motorists at risk and increases the likelihood of a fatigued or drowsy truck driver falling asleep at the wheel:
- Drivers may only drive 11 hours in a day, and only if they have had 10 consecutive off-duty hours.
- The 11 hours of drive time cannot go beyond the 14th hour of duty in a day.
- Drivers must take a 30-minute break after eight consecutive hours of driving.
- Drivers cannot drive more than 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days.
- Drivers can reset this weekly limit by remaining off-duty for 34 consecutive hours.
In the past, there was little incentive for truck drivers to falsify their logbooks when they were having a rough day or wanted to drive longer than the law allowed. However, a December 2017 mandate requires that all truckers bound by HOS rules utilize electronic logging devices (ELDs). Although this rule has proven controversial in the trucking industry, computer logs force compliance in a way that paper logbooks were unable to do.
Hands-Free Only for Truck Drivers
According to the FMCSA, drivers who use cell phones while they are driving are six times more likely to be involved in an accident or have a near-miss than those who do not; truck drivers who text are about 23 times more likely to get in an accident or have a near-miss. The FMCSA mandates that truck drivers who use a cell phone while their vehicle is running must use a hands-free feature. Texting while driving is completely banned. For the purposes of compliance, the FMCSA defines cell phone usage as engaging in any of the following activities:
- Using one or both hands to make a phone call with a mobile phone
- Using more than a single button to dial a phone number
- Reaching for your mobile device in a way that requires you to get out of your seat and/or unbuckle your seatbelt
- Texting, which includes sending SMS messages, e-mails, and instant messages
- Accessing a web page or engaging in any other form of electronic communication while driving
The FMCSA suggests the following actions to ensure that commercial vehicle drivers remain in compliance:
- Place the mobile phone close enough to the driver so that he or she does not have to remove the seatbelt to grab the phone; mounting the phone close to the driver can help with this.
- When activating the hands-free feature on a mobile phone, it must be close enough for the driver to begin, answer, or end a call with just one button.
- Drivers should use speakerphone or an earpiece.
- Drivers should use activated dialing.
- Pairing devices, such as headsets, should only be done when the truck is parked.
Driving a Semi Under the Influence
Driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other controlled substances is illegal for the average driver because of how these substances affect a person’s ability to function. Truckers who drive under the influence pose an even greater risk to other motorists because of the additional dexterity required to handle a large truck. Yet, even with the extra challenge and responsibility of driving a tractor-trailer, drug and alcohol use among truckers remains common. In fact, the FMCSA estimates that about 13 percent of truck drivers who were in fatal crashes in 2016 had drugs in their system; more than 20 percent had a blood alcohol content (BAC) above 0.08, the legal limit for regular motorists. Those who hold commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs) are bound to a higher standard: a BAC limit of 0.04.
In an effort to curb drug and alcohol use among truckers, the FMSCA mandates drug and alcohol testing through the Department of Transportation (DOT) for all drivers who hold a CDL. DOT alcohol testing will pick up a BAC of 0.02 and higher, and DOT screens drivers for the following five classes of drugs: marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines (including methamphetamines), and phencyclidine, commonly known as PCP. Drivers are tested prior to employment, randomly, when there is reasonable suspicion, and oftentimes following an accident. If a truck accident results in a fatality, if law enforcement issues a citation because bodily injury was severe enough to transport people to the hospital, or if any vehicle in the crash was damaged to the point that it needed to be towed away from the scene of the accident, the trucker must undergo a mandatory drug and alcohol post-accident screening.
Maintenance Regulations for the Trucking Industry
In addition to regulations governing the behavior of truck drivers, other FMCSA rules mandate that trucking companies maintain the condition of their vehicles. Due to the fact that many accidents are caused by failure to maintain a truck, drivers and trucking companies are required to perform routine inspections and repairs of equipment, such as brakes and steering components, to avoid a sudden mechanical breakdown on the road. Tire blowouts, brake failure, steering failure, and other preventable breakdowns might lead to a driver losing control of his or her vehicle and causing a severe crash. Trucking companies must maintain inspection and maintenance records for audits by the FMSCA.
Other regulations concerning the truck apply to properly securing cargo. The FMSCA requires motor carriers to secure their cargo in such a way that it prevents items from shifting or falling from the vehicle. More specific regulations apply to special items, such as logs, paper rolls, concrete pipe, containers, and more. When cargo isn’t correctly loaded or tied down, load spillage might lead to multi-car accidents that can result in severe injury and fatalities.
Get the Legal Help You Need From a Nebraska Truck Accident Attorney
The FMCSA regulations are in place to keep the roads safe and prevent truck accidents, which often cause large amounts of property damage and injury. Truck drivers and trucking companies who fail to comply with FMCSA regulations put other motorists at risk of serious and fatal injuries, which are more common in truck accidents because of the size and weight of most semi trucks. If you have been injured in a trucking accident, you deserve compensation for the full cost of your injuries. Our experienced legal team will investigate your accident to find evidence that the driver or trucking company violated FMCSA regulations.
Call the Robert Pahlke Law Group today at (308) 633-4444, or contact us online, to learn whether you have grounds for legal action and to take the first step in your claim for compensation.