A large number of our client cases involve a collision involving a semi-truck or what some people call a tractor trailer and still others describe as 18 wheelers. Car truck collisions (and semi-truck to semi-truck collisions as well) more often than not lead to permanent injury, catastrophic injury or death. Large trucks frequently weigh sixty thousand pounds or more. Many trucks carry hazardous materials.
As noted above, the danger posed by trucks is a consequence of vehicle speed and vehicle weight. The Department of Transportation estimates more than 500,000 trucking accidents every year in the United States. The majority of truck accidents are due to driver fatigue, as well as driver inattention and error, and failure to properly maintain equipment, especially failure to maintain brakes. We have even pursued trucking companies for punitive damages for failure to screen drivers as required by Federal Motor Carrier Regulations.
Video on the importance of trucking safety regulation compliance.
Just some of the pertinent regulations from the Code of Federal Regulations provide as follows:
–Whenever a duty is prescribed for a driver or a prohibition is imposed upon the driver, it shall be the duty of the motor carrier to require observance of such duty or prohibition. 49 C.F.R. §390.11.
–No person shall aid, abet, encourage, or require a motor carrier or its employees to violate the rules of this chapter. 49 C.F.R. §390.13.
–Every driver and employee shall be instructed regarding, and shall comply with, all applicable motor carrier safety regulations…. 49 C.F.R. §390.3(e)(2).
–Each motor carrier shall, at least once every 12 months, review the driving record of each driver it employs to determine whether that driver meets minimum requirements for safe driving or is disqualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle …. In reviewing a driving record, the motor carrier must consider any evidence that the driver has violated applicable provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations [,] the driver’s accident record[,] and any evidence that the driver has violated laws governing the operation of motor vehicles. [The motor carrier] must give great weight to violations, such as speeding, reckless driving, and operating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, that indicate that the driver has exhibited a disregard for the safety of the public. A note, setting forth the date upon which the review was performed and the name of the person who reviewed the driving record, shall be included in the driver’s qualification file. 49 C.F.R. §391.25.
–Each motor carrier shall maintain a driver qualification file for each driver it employs … [which] file … must include … the note relating to the annual review of his/her driving record; the list or certificate relating to violations of motor vehicle laws and ordinances; and any other matter which relates to the driver’s qualifications or ability to drive a commercial motor vehicle safely. 49 C.F.R. §391.51.
–No commercial motor vehicle shall be driven unless the driver thereof shall have satisfied himself/herself that … [the service brakes, including trailer brake connections] are in good working order. 49 C.F.R. §392.7.
–Truck tractor combinations [are required] to have brakes adequate to control the movement of, and to stop and hold, the vehicle. This includes an emergency brake system with a control which the driver applying the emergency brake system can readily operate while restrained by a seat belt. The brake systems must be designed, constructed, and maintained so that, upon the failure of any part of the operating mechanism of one or more of the systems (except the service brake actuation pedal or valve) the vehicle will have operative brakes capable of stopping the vehicle in prescribed distances for prescribed vehicle weights. 49 C.F.R. §393.40.
–Every commercial motor vehicle shall be equipped with brakes acting on all wheels. 49 C.F.R. §393.42.
–It shall be the motor carrier’s responsibility to ensure that the individual(s) performing an … inspection is qualified as follows: understands the inspection criteria … and can identify defective components; is knowledgeable of and has mastered the methods, procedures, tools and equipment used when performing an inspection; and is capable of performing an inspection by reason of experience, training, or both… . 49 C.F.R. §396.19.
– The motor carrier shall ensure that all inspections, maintenance, repairs or service to the brakes of its commercial motor vehicles are performed…. No motor carrier shall require or permit any employee who does not meet the minimum brake inspector qualifications … to be responsible for the inspection, maintenance, service or repairs of any brakes on its commercial motor vehicles. 49 C.F.R. §396.25.
–Every motor carrier shall systematically inspect, repair, and maintain … all motor vehicles subject to its control. Parts and accessories shall be in safe and proper operating condition at all times. These include … any additional part and accessories which may affect safety of operation …. 49 C.F.R. §396.3.
–A motor vehicle shall not be operated in such a condition as to likely cause an accident or a breakdown of the vehicle. Any motor vehicle discovered to be in an unsafe condition while being operated on the highway may be continued in operation only to the nearest place where repairs can safely be effected. 49 C.F.R. §396.7.
–[A]ll [driver] applicants shall demonstrate the following skills with respect to inspection and operation of air brakes: …[being able] to: (i) Locate and verbally identify air brake operating controls and monitoring devices; (ii) Determine the motor vehicle’s brake system condition for proper adjustments and that air system connections between motor vehicles have been properly made and secured; (iii) Inspect the low pressure warning device(s) to ensure that they will activate in emergency situations: (iv) Ascertain, with the engine running, that the system maintains an adequate supply of compressed air; (v) Determine that required minimum air pressure build up time is within acceptable limits and that required alarms and emergency devices automatically deactivate at the proper pressure level; and (vi) Operationally check the brake system for proper performance. 49 C.F.R. §383.113.
–A vehicle does not pass an inspection if it has one of the following defects or deficiencies: an absence of braking action on any axle required to have brakes upon application of the service brakes; missing or broken mechanical components; loose brake components; … parking brakes that do not operate properly; cracks in brake drums or rotors; damaged brake hoses; any audible air leaks; two hoses improperly joined; … and cracked or broken mounting brackets, braces or adapters. 49 C.F.R. §383, Appendix G to Subchapter B of the FMCSR.
If you or someone you care about has been injured in an accident while driving a semi, or as a result of colliding with a semi, tractor trailer, or 18 wheel truck, it is essential to consult legal counsel with experience in dealing with the myriad of issues and complexities posed by collisions involving trucks. These type cases almost always require an attorney who has a team with experience in accident reconstruction, but also experience in analyzing the logs of the truck driver involved in the crash, the drivers DOT qualification file, and in obtaining data from the on board event record (black box) available on most modern tractors. We have such a team and stand ready to serve you should you or your family need our assistance.