The recent fatal accident, which left actor and comedian Tracy Morgan critically injured, has shone the spotlight once again on trucking regulations.  According to reports, the Wal-Mart truck driver who has been accused of causing the crash, had not been to sleep for more than 24 hours at the time of the accident.  The question is, did that truck driver violate and federal regulations by driving in that condition?  Who is responsible for regulation of trucking industry?

Who regulates truck drivers?

Because truck accidents are typically pretty serious, regulations have been created to monitor truck drivers and the entire trucking industry.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, regulates both truck drivers and the trucks themselves.  The NHSTA also establishes rules regarding general motor vehicle performance and safety.

What regulations are truck drivers required to follow?

There are many different topics on which the FMCSA provides guidance and regulatory oversight.  There are certain medical requirements that truck drivers must meet. They must pass drug and alcohol testing.  There are specific regulations regarding the transportation of hazardous materials, which could potentially harm the public or the environment.  There are rules regarding cargo securement, which is very important for trucks carrying loads that may not be contained inside a trailer.
The most widely known, and widely debated trucking industry regulations relate to “hours of service.”  There are strict rules on how many hours one can drive versus how many they have to rest. The purpose of these regulations is to prevent accidents caused by driver fatigue. The Hours of Service rule for truck drivers contains an 11-hour daily driving limit and 14-hour work day limit.  A new provisions that took effect in July 2013, limits the maximum average work week to 70 hours, allowing the driver to resume only if they rest for 34 consecutive hours.  Truck drivers are also required to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift.

Drivers must keep a log

Truck drivers are required to keep a log of their driving hours, which they send to their trucking companies.  Those companies must  maintain those logs, in the event the federal government chooses to conduct an audit.  A driver may also run into a roadside inspection, by law enforcement.

What happens if truck drivers don’t comply?

Some companies have been caught and fined for violating these regulations. Enforcement of the Hours of Service, for example, is normally controlled by each state’s department of transportation.  In some cases, commercial vehicles are randomly checked at weigh stations. Drivers found to be in violation of the Hours of Service rule can be forced to stop driving for a certain period of time, which usually damages their motor carrier’s safety rating.

The debate surrounding Hours of Service regulations

The Hours of Service rules continue to be a hot topic for debate.  Those who support the new regulations, strongly believe that they help reduce driver fatigue and related accidents and fatalities. According to the Department of Transportation, fatalities involving large trucks dropped 25% from 2007 to 2011.
However, the trucking industry sees it differently.  Some say the 34-hour restart requirement results in truckers getting stuck on the road, resulting in a significant loss in productivity.  Because they cannot go as far as they used to, they are making less money.
If you have questions regarding trucking accidents, or any other personal injury concerns, please contact the Cottrell Law Office by calling us at (888) 433-4861.

Author Photo

Wesley Cottrell

Wes Cottrell earned his B.A. from Pittsburg State University in 1981 and his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas in 1985. He was admitted to practice law in Kansas in 1986, in Missouri in 1987, in Arkansas in 1989, and Oklahoma in 1993. He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.

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