Articles Posted in Trucking regulations

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Photo our expert used to identify negligent maintenance issues even though trucking company had sold their dump truck out of state.

Tom was having a good day. Between sales calls, he stopped his pickup truck at a red light at the end of bridge waiting to turn left onto a freeway ramp. He had been sitting there about thirty seconds when he heard a loud screeching sound. A dump truck fully loaded with gravel crashed into his rear, crushing the bed of his pickup and knocking the top of his toolbox through his rear window. By the time Tom hired us, the dump truck company had sold the truck and “lost” all the maintenance records. However, we had an expert who could tell from photos of the property damage that there were rusty cracks in mechanical components that may have contributed to the crash. While driver distraction and speed were bigger parts of the case, proof of poor maintenance helped establish that the company had been sloppy about safety for a long time.

Although many of the commercial truck crash cases we handle are caused by some combination of speed, fatigue or distraction, some also involve mechanical failure. That may be discovered by a motor carrier enforcement inspection after a crash, in an expert inspection we arrange if we are hired quickly enough, or it may be disclosed later in expert examination of photos of property damage.

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maxresdefaultPeople may enjoy watching “Ice Road Truckers” on television. But there is nothing entertaining about a tractor trailer bearing down upon you at excessive speed, out of control on an icy highway.

A truck driver from Georgia has been charged with three counts of “three charges of grossly negligent driving with death resulting,” the Vermont equivalent of vehicular homicide.

Last December 29, Lashawn Jones, 41, of Alpharetta, Georgia, was driving Roehl Transport Inc. tractor trailer on slush and ice on U.S. 4 near the Killington Ski Resort in Vermont. The truck driver lost control on slush and ice and collided head on with a vehicle occupied by three people – Ryszard and Anita Malarczyk from Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, and their friend, Jaroslaw Karczewski from Poland. All three were killed in the crash.

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driving-in-fogOnce again, a tractor trailer making a u-turn in dark or fog on a rural Georgia road has proven fatal. Once again, a turning tractor trailer forms a deadly and virtually invisible fence across a highway.

On September 30th at Lenox, Georgia, a man was killed when he collided with a Scruggs Concrete semi-truck attempting to make a u-turn in the roadway in foggy conditions. He was killed when the collision sheared off the top of his pickup truck.

This is an all too common form of truck crash across the United States, largely due to poor training and management at companies that operate the trucks.

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pinball different pathWhat do you do when insurance coverage is grossly inadequate for a catastrophic truck crash personal injury or wrongful death case?

Big truck wrecks can cause a lot of carnage. When a small passenger car is run over at highway speed by a 80,000 pound tractor trailer bigger than a Sherman tank, a tremendous amount of kinetic energy is unleashed. The results are often than catastrophic.

Unfortunately, the liability insurance required for big trucks has not been adjusted since President Reagan’s administration. Minimum insurance for general freight tractor trailers in interstate commerce was set at $750,000 in 1981. Minimum coverage for interstate hazmat trucks and passenger buses was set at $5,000,000 in 1985.

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One day in Kansas City, I took the deposition testimony through an interpreter of a Bosnian immigrant truck driver. He was driving with a Florida Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) when he crashed an 18-wheeler into my client on a Georgia interstate highway.

I asked where he got his truck driver training. He said some Russian guy in North Carolina, whose name he could not recall, trained him. How did he study the Commercial Drivers License manual, published in English?   He said his 10-year-old daughter read it and translated it for him. She may have been a precocious child, but really? I didn’t think then to dig into how he was able to take and pass the Florida CDL tests.

For several years, a high percentage of our serious truck crash cases have involved immigrant truck drivers who have to testify through interpreters. They drive the highways of America in little bubbles of their home countries, talking by cell phone as they drive with people in their home countries, listening to music in a native dialect, and never really interacting with America language or culture.

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Every year we see many reports of tractor trailers overturning in metro Atlanta and across Georgia. Usually it is just another half-comical story of traffic tie-ups because some truck rolled over in a freeway interchange, spilling a load of watermelons, beer, Christmas packages, or whatever.

But too often tractor trailer rollovers result in serious injury or death to the truck driver and sometimes others. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has worked for years to reduce the incidence of truck rollovers, which are a major safety concern for both truck drivers and other motorists on the highway.

The Large Truck Crash Causation Study documented over a decade ago that tractor-trailers are particularly vulnerable because of the trailer’s high center of gravity and frequently unstable loads. In that study, the great majority were driver errors, including excessive speed in curves, often misjudging sharpness, drifting off road, often counter-steering abruptly, not adjusting to the trailers high center of gravity, being impaired physically (e.g. fatigue, drowsiness) or emotionally (reckless, angry). Vehicle-related problems include top heavy and badly distributed or unsecured loads, poorly maintained brakes or suspension and under-inflated tires, many of which were the driver’s responsibility to check. Improved driver training, especially for tanker truck and concrete mixer truck drivers, is a big part of rollover prevention.

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In 2003, a 15-year-old girl who had been in Brownies with my daughter was killed when her family’s vehicle was rear-ended by a tractor trailer on an interstate highway. She was riding in the back seat en route to a summer camp. The truck driver was charged with DUI. That event is in the back of my mind whenever a question arises of whether a truck driver may have been impaired at the time of a crash.

To be clear, most interstate truck drivers are highly responsible, safety conscious and would never dream of driving when impaired from alcohol or drugs.

But there are those who use stimulants, sometimes including meth or cocaine, to stay up for long driving hours, or who get behind the wheel after drinking. Others use either prescription or over the counter drugs which can affect attentiveness.

Aware of that risk, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require mandatory post-accident alcohol and drug tests whenever anyone is killed or removed from that crash scene by ambulance, and when any vehicle is towed from a wreck with an interstate commercial vehicle and when.

Until now, however, there has not been an easy way to check on whether a truck driver has a history of driving under the influence.

On February 20th, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a proposed rule that would establish a database of drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) who have failed or refused to take a drug or alcohol test. This clearinghouse may help improve roadway safety by making it easier to determine whether a truck or bus driver is prohibited from operating a commercial motor vehicle for failing to comply with federal drug and alcohol regulations, including mandatory testing.

Current federal regulations require employers to conduct mandatory pre-employment screening of CDL driver qualifications based upon their driving record. However, there are not been a single federal repository recording positive drug and alcohol tests by CDL holder that employers would be able to search to ensure the driver is able to perform at a job where safety is the number one concern.

“Safety is our highest priority, and we will continue to embrace new tools and opportunities that protect the travelers on our nation’s roads,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Today’s proposal will help ensure dangerous drivers stay off the road, while encouraging the employment of the many safe drivers who follow our drug and alcohol requirements.”

The proposed rule would give employers access to invaluable information with ease. The new rule also require employers to conduct pre-employment searches through the repository for all new CDL drivers and annual searched on drivers they currently employ.

“We are leveraging technology to create a one-stop verification point to help companies hire drug and alcohol-free drivers,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “This proposal moves us further down the road toward improving safety for truck and bus companies, commercial drivers and the motoring public everywhere.”

Under the proposed regulation, FMCSA-regulated truck and bus companies, Medical Review Officers, Substance Abuse Professionals, and private third-party USDOT drug and alcohol testing laboratories would be required to record information about any driver who:

• Fails a drug and/or alcohol test
• Refuses to submit a drug and/or alcohol test; and
• Successfully completes a substance abuse program and is legally qualified to return to duty.

Private, third-party USDOT drug and alcohol testing laboratories would also be required to report summary information annually so that they can help identify companies that do not have a testing program. To ensure the privacy of the drivers involved, each CDL holder would need to provide their consent before an employer could access the clearinghouse.

Drivers who refuse to provide their testing information could still be employed by the truck or bus company; however, they could not occupy safety-sensitive positions such as operating a commercial motor vehicle.

It is a violation of federal regulations to drive a truck or bus under the influence of a controlled substance or under the influence of alcohol. Federal safety regulations require that truck and bus companies that employ CDL drivers conduct random drug and alcohol testing programs. Carriers must randomly test 10 percent of their CDL drivers for alcohol and 50 percent of their CDL drivers for drugs each year.
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As a trucking accident personal injury and wrongful death lawyer based in Atlanta, I get a chance to see the trucking safety issues from the point of view of both innocent folks who are run over by tractor trailers and truck drivers who are themselves put at risk by companies that care too little about safety.

A blogging truck driver at Go By Truck News wrote this week that “A rogue motor carrier is a truck driver’s worst nightmare.”

He wrote that last year, D.A. Landis Trucking, Inc. was charged with conspiracy for ordering drivers to falsify their daily logbooks, maintain two sets of logs, falsely certify accuracy of the lying logs, had dispatchers also knowingly dispatched drivers on trips that were truck accidentto exceed hours-of-service requirements.

That is old news to those of us who have been digging through truck drivers’ logs and trip documents and both deposing and interviewing truck drivers.

He also gathered these tweets from tired truck drivers:

– “My dispatcher goes retarded when I tried to tell them I have only 1 hr left to drive.”

– “I have heard this from many dispatchers before. Come on we need you for one more.”

– “When it comes to driving we have 65mph trks n 100mph dispatchers with 26 hrs in a day!”

– “Dispatch was kind enough to plan my first load for 4am central time. My paperwork is invalid and dispatch won’t be in for another 3 hrs.”

Go By Truck News urges truck drivers to check the safety records of any company they consider working for, and to make sure they know the rules, including these:

FMCSR 392.6 Schedules to conform with speed limits. “No motor carrier shall require a run nor permit nor require the operation of any commercial motor vehicle between points in such period of time as would necessitate the commercial vehicle being operated at speed greater than those prescribed by the jurisdictions in or through which the commercial motor vehicle is being operated.”

FMCSR 390.13 Aiding or abetting violations. “No person shall aid, abet, encourage, or require a motor carrier or its employees to violate the rules of this chapter.”

FMCSR 392.3 Ill or fatigued operator. “No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.” (This regulation was mentioned in my prior article and worth repeating again here).

He is spot on in stating that, “A good safety director will educate a driver about these regulations, rewarding and not penalizing a driver for declining to take a load if they are too fatigued. A good company with a pattern of safe behavior will give a trucker an opportunity to develop a disciplined sleep routine.”

He urges that, “it’s often the employer / load planner / dispatcher pushing the trucker beyond their limits. However, all truckers should take a stand with the Trucker Mike’s ‘Mantra’ – ‘I will NEVER let anyone ‘push’ me, instead I’ll be fired for being SAFE if need be!'”

This afternoon, my friend Steve Gursten in Michigan forwarded this plea he received from a truck driver who wants to drive safely but works for a rogue trucking company that won’t allow him to follow the law:

The company that I drive for has me doing illegal runs. I feel if I don’t do them my miles will be cut or they will find a way to get rid of me. I need to care for my family. I have been too many companies and they are all the same. The one I’m with now is the worst. I’m looking for other employment and coping the best I can. Is there anyone I can talk to like a whistle blower organization? Or maybe a letter too the sec of transportation? Companies, dispatchers, shippers and receivers need to be held accountable. Until we have better legislation in place to address this, us truckers will always be at the bottom of the hill. And of course we know which direction s##t rolls.

Wow!

That is right in line with my impression over the years that most truck drivers are just ordinary good guys working hard to make a living, but are too often pushed by employers, motor carriers, shippers, brokers, etc., to make illegal runs on impossible schedules, so that they are often pushed beyond the limits of human endurance.

That is why I generally try to handle these cases by digging for a root cause analysis in the corporate safety management system — or lack thereof.

I suggested referring this guy to Truckers Justice Center in Minnesota, operated by a lawyer who represents whistle blowing truck drivers nationwide
If your or a family member were run over by a tractor trailer, or if you are a truck driver badly injured in the line of duty, I would be glad to talk with you with no obligation.
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Despite the political gridlock and recent shutdown of the federal government, Congress has managed to pass legislation to address the danger of sleep apnea in the trucking industry. At this writing, it awaits the President’s signature.

House Resolution 3095 is a simple, two-page bill sponsored by two members of Congress sped through Congress. It requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to commit to formal rule making on sleep apnea testing and treatment for truckers and other professional drivers.

The trucking industry, predictably enough, estimates that “the impact of screening, diagnosis, and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea could exceed $1 billion annually.” But that is a bargain compared to the carnage on the highways due to drivers of 80,000 pound tractor trailers falling asleep at the wheel.

The downside of this, warns my friend Michael Leizerman in Ohio, is that by requiring the FMCSA to go through full rulemaking and cost-benefit analysis when addressing screening, testing or treatment of sleep apnea, it may delay rather than speed up efforts to address the very real problem of sleep apnea. As Michael pointed out in a recent blog post, the FMCSA has already published the online Fatigue Management Training program and has many simple and inexpensive ideas to make fatigue awareness part of a motor carrier’s safety culture.

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to fatigued driving and is thus a medically disqualifying condition for truck drivers. FMCSR 391.41(b)(5). We have seen too many cases in which our clients were run over by truck drivers who were often good folks but were dangerous behind the wheel due to fatigue, drowsiness and untreated sleep apnea.

As Michael Leizerman has pointed out, this legislation requires the FMCSA to go through a full rule making process which will add years of delay to the implementation of much needed efforts to forcefully address the problem of sleep apnea among truck drivers.
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Most attorneys who are familiar with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and state trucking safety regulations think they apply only to tractor trailers, tour buses and other very large vehicles for which the driver must have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

What most lawyers do not know is that the regulations may also apply to many commercial vehicles, including many work vehicles such as large pickups towing utility trailers.

A CDL isn’t required to drive smaller utility vehicles and trailers, but they may still be governed by federal or state trucking safety regulations. There are two definitions with which a lawyer handling these cases should be familiar in order to understand how to apply trucking safety regulations to non-CDL drivers
First is Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and it is what a vehicle manufacturer defines as the vehicles loaded weight. This weight is usually printed on a plate that can be found on the inside of the driver’s door. Most passenger cars have a GVWR of 5000 or less and full-sized pick up trucks will have a GVWR of 6000 to 8000 pounds.

Second is Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR). This is the GVWR of the power unit (the towing vehicle) plus the weight of the unit being towed with any load that it is carrying.

The FMCSR contain two definitions of what constitutes a property-carrying commercial motor vehicle. The first definition, found at 49 CFR § 390.5, defines it as “any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway or interstate commerce… (that) has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or Gross Combination Weight Rating of 10,001 pounds or more.”

The second definition, found at 49 C.F.R. § § 383.5, defines a commercial motor vehicle as a vehicle used in interstate or intrastate commerce that has a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 or more pounds inclusive of a towed unit with a gross vehicle rating of more than 10,000 pounds.

When both the definitions and regulations are put together, a business vehicle that weighs over 10,001 pounds (alone or in combination with a trailer) can be considered a commercial motor vehicle.

This means that a 7000 pound pickup truck pulling 3001 pound trailer can meet the definition of a commercial motor vehicle, even though a commercial drivers license isn’t required for CMVs that are under 26,001 pounds.

Whenever we evaluate a case that involves any size truck or van towing a trailer, we must determine the GCWR because it could be a commercial vehicle required to comply with either federal or state trucking regulations.

If the vehicle qualifies as a commercial motor vehicle, the next step is to determine what safety regulations apply. That will depend initially on whether the commercial vehicle operates in interstate commerce
With some minor variations, most of the FMCSRs apply to the operation of non-CDL commercial motor vehicles. The only extra regulations that govern over 26,001 pound CMVs are those that specifically address CDL licensing ( 49 CFR §383) and drug and alcohol testing (49 CFR §382.)

Here are some of the most important regulations and how they apply.

• Most of the FMCSR and the state equivalent thereof are applicable to all commercial motor vehicles regardless of whether a commercial driver’s license is required to operate the vehicle or not.
• Businesses that operate commercial motor vehicles must register and obtain authority from state and federal trucking authorities. This means everyone from landscape companies to plumbing companies that own and operate vehicles alone or together with a towed trailer weigh over 10,001 pounds must register and follow the regulations that are not just for “trucking companies.”
• Employers of non-CDL CMV drivers are required to “qualify” each driver in the same way as employers of CDL drivers and must maintain an up-to-date Driver Qualification File on each driver (49 CFR §391.) This includes ensuring that drivers meet minimum requirements of being over the age of 21, having the ability to read and speak English, and have both the physical and medical qualifications as CDL drivers. This also requires the employer to obtain a detailed application for employment, perform a detailed background check, obtain annual review of driving records, and perform annual re-qualification of the driver. The only significant difference for CDL drivers is that they are required to give 10 years of employment history instead of the 3 years for non-CDL drivers.
• Most regulations pertaining to the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles apply to the operation of both CDL and non-CDL motor vehicles. This includes prohibitions against drugs, alcohol, radar detectors, unauthorized passengers, texting, handheld devices while operating the vehicle, and operating while ill or fatigued. It also includes requirements for seat belts, emergency equipment, inspections, stopping at railroad crossing, use of extreme caution when operating in poor conditions including rain and fog. See 49 CFR §392 for detailed information on these items.
• For the most part, the same hours of service rules apply to both CDL and non-CDL drivers. The biggest exception has to do with driver daily logs. Except when operating only in a 150 air-mile short haul radius zone drivers that operate CMVs that require a CDL are typically required to keep a detailed 24 hour driver log that shows all changes in duty status although there are some exceptions to this. Most drivers of CMVs that don’t require a CDL are under the qualification of short-haul drivers. As long as they operate within a 150 air-mile radius and return to their base at the end of each trip, they typically aren’t required to keep such a log. However, the employer is required to keep accurate time records showing the time the driver reported for work, when they were released, and total work time for the day as well as the previous seven days. The employer is also required to keep these records for six months.
• Many employers fail to maintain accurate time records for non-CDL drivers. Failure to keep these records raises a presumption of violation. You should also be on the lookout for drivers who hold more than one job. Hours of service regulations apply to all work performed regardless of how many jobs a driver has during the reporting period.

But mere applicability of the regulations to smaller commercial vehicles does not make either the physics of a collision or the dynamics in the courtroom or jury room the same as when an 80,000 pound runs over a family vehicle. The advocate for individuals and families hurt in these collisions must evaluate the whole situation, taking into account the facts, the law and the psychological factors in play.
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