Accidents involving large commercial trucks have catastrophic results. A typical passenger vehicle is no match for the massive size and weight of a truck. Because of the risk these trucks pose to their drivers and all others on the road, the Department of Transportation has enacted specific regulations for the trucking industry through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). These regulations not only act to keep drivers safe, but can also come into play in cases where there is a need for a New Jersey truck accident claim.
Obtaining a CDL
Driving a commercial truck requires special skills and knowledge. For this reason, drivers must obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL.) A CDL is required to operate any vehicle weighing in excess of 10,000 pounds, a vehicle being used to transport 16 or more people, or any vehicle transporting hazardous materials. Applicants for this license must pass both a written and a skills test.
A CDL is normally valid for four years, but there are a number of violations that may cause a driver’s license to be revoked. These safety violations may involve drug or alcohol abuse, drowsy driving, failure to properly maintain or inspect the vehicle prior to use, and other unsafe driving practices.
Hours of Service
The trucking industry is notorious for the excessive physical demands it places on its drivers. Drivers trying to meet tight deadlines are often pushed to travel long distances with little time for rest. As a consequence, truck driver fatigue and drowsy driving are some of the leading causes of deadly truck accidents.
The FMCSA has instituted hours of service regulations in an attempt to combat this dangerous issue. These rules place limitations on the number of consecutive hours worked, the number of hours a driver may work in a seven or eight day work week, and require minimum 30-minute rest breaks for every eight hours on duty.
Drivers must keep a detailed log of their activities throughout their shifts, including driving times, on and off duty hours, and rest breaks. These log books can prove invaluable in cases of truck accidents where it is suspected that the driver was fatigued.
Drug and Alcohol Policies
Truck drivers are prohibited from operating their vehicles while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drivers must pass a drug test prior to employment. Further testing for drugs and alcohol will occur upon reasonable suspicion, after an accident, and upon return to work after a violation. Drivers may also be subject to random tests.
Distracted Driving Policies
Because of the considerable amount of time that truck drivers spend behind the wheel, the front cabs of their trucks can become like a second home. Drivers eat, conduct business, and communicate with their families while on the road, so it is no surprise that occasionally their attention may be diverted. Distracted driving is extremely dangerous for anyone, especially if the driver is behind the wheel of such a large piece of equipment.
Research shows that the odds of being in a safety-critical event (crash, near-crash, unintentional lane deviation) are more than 23 times greater for commercial vehicle drivers who text while driving than those that don’t.
For this reason, drivers are prohibited from using handheld electronic devices to compose or read text messages, emails, instant messaging, or pressing more than a single button to initiate or terminate a voice communication. Penalties for noncompliance of this rule include fines and possible driver disqualification.
Overloaded or improperly loaded cargo is a major risk factor for a serious truck accident. The FMCSA requires truck drivers to inspect their cargo prior to making their trip, then again within the first 50 miles, at the time of a duty status change, and again at three-hour intervals. Drivers must also check that cargo does not exceed weight limits.
Transporting of Hazardous Materials
Trucks carrying hazardous cargo can create an even more dangerous situation in the event of a multi-vehicle accident. Because these materials pose such a significant threat to humans and the environment, the FMCSA has strict regulations for their transport. Shipping companies must inform truck drivers of the contents of their cargo, and drivers are required to properly inspect and label any hazardous materials.
Trucking companies are required to keep vehicles in safe operating condition. This requires them to regularly inspect, repair, maintain, and keep suitable records for all of their vehicles. Trucks with vehicle defects must be taken out of service until all repairs have been made.
How a Lawyer Can Help You
If you or a loved one has suffered serious injury in an accident involving a large commercial vehicle, the New Jersey personal injury law firm of Grungo Colarulo can help. Our lawyers are committed to obtaining the maximum possible compensation for our clients and will conduct a thorough investigation in order to identify all possible defendants in your case and hold them accountable for their negligence.