Trucking regulations from the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) aim to make our highways safer for truckers and for drivers who share the road with them. Tragic trucking accidents can’t always be avoided, but in many cases they could have been averted had the drivers involved been following the rules of the road and if the trucker had been following trucking mandates.

It’s important to have a basic understanding of these regulations so that you will know violations and understand liability factors if you have been involved in an accident with a large commercial vehicle.

Overview of Some Federal Trucking Regulations

The trucking regulations from the Department of Transportation that regulate the operation of tractor trailers and other commercial vehicles are quite extensive and can be confusing to someone who doesn’t work in the trucking industry.

The following is a very basic overview of some of the trucking mandates that, when broken, may lead to serious accidents:

  • Hours of service requirements.  Sleep deprivation is a serious problem for truck drivers and a major safety risk for everyone who shares the road with commercial vehicles operated by a fatigued driver. There are strict trucking regulations regarding how many hours drivers can spend on the road, and how many hours they need to rest.
  • These laws have been in existence for quite a few years, and have recently been updated. Among the rules are those limiting drivers to no more than 11 hours driving time after 10 consecutive hours off duty, and restricts them from driving beyond the 14th consecutive hour after the 10-hour off-duty period. As of July 1, 2013, drivers may not drive beyond eight hours without a minimum 30-minute off-duty period. Truckers must keep a logbook to document their hours of service.
  • Hazardous Materials. Truck drivers who haul hazardous materials have a level of responsibility equal to the danger of the load they pull. In addition to following the normal trucking guidelines, they also have the added rules of dealing with potentially dangerous substances. There are extensive rules surrounding the transport of hazardous materials; the specifics depend greatly on the type of chemicals being hauled.
  • For example, except under very limited circumstances, a driver who is carrying explosives may not leave the vehicle unattended at any time. For all drivers of hazardous materials, the need to maintain the vehicle and keep the load secure is vitally important.
  • Distracted Driving. Truckers may be especially prone to distractions on the road simply because they spend the majority of their days driving. This busy lifestyle can make it tempting for truckers to do things like accept cell phone calls and have meals while driving. That’s why last year the federal government banned commercial truckers from talking on hand-held cell phones, although hands-free devices and CB radios have not been restricted.

Dealing With a Trucking Accident

Many commercial truck accidents cause serious injuries or death; in 2010, 3,675 people were killed and an estimated 80,000 injured in these accidents. When the accident involves a smaller vehicle, drivers or passengers of that vehicle are at a much higher risk of injury or death than the truck driver. In 2010, 86 percent of fatalities and 75 percent of injuries from large truck accidents were occupants of other vehicles or non-occupants like pedestrians.

While federal trucking mandates from the Department of Transportation’s FMCSA are in place to help prevent dangerous and deadly trucking accidents, they unfortunately still occur more often than they should, causing physical and emotional pain for everyone involved. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving a commercial vehicle, you should consider speaking with an attorney who can review the cause of the accident and whether any federal trucking regulations were violated.