If you have a case involving a commercial motor vehicle, pay close attention to whether hazardous weather conditions exist at the time of the crash. Drivers of all commercial motor vehicles are required to use “extreme caution” when hazardous conditions exist according to 49 C.F.R. § 392.14 (“Hazardous Conditions; extreme caution”):
Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated. Whenever compliance with the foregoing provisions of this rule increases hazard to passengers, the commercial motor vehicle may be operated to the nearest point at which the safety of passengers is assured.
What Types of Vehicles are Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs)?
Even smaller CMVs like full-size pickup trucks pulling trailers, larger cargo vans, heavy-duty pickup trucks, box trucks, delivery trucks, and bucket trucks will often meet the definition of a “commercial motor vehicle.” Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 40-1-1) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (§390.5) define “commercial motor vehicle” as any vehicle used to transport passengers or property when the vehicle:
a) Has a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 lbs. or more;
b) Is designed or used to transport more than eight passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
c) Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers (including the driver) and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
d) Is used to transport hazardous material.
See Friedrich v. U.S. Computer Services, 974 F.2d 409 (3rd Cir. 1992) for a discussion about the scope of what is included in “transporting property”.
What Special Rules Must CMVs Follow?
The Georgia Department of Public Safety Transportation Rulebook, Chapter 1 “Motor Carrier Safety Regulations,” has also adopted the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (including 49 C.F.R. § 392.14) for purely intrastate commercial motor vehicles.
In a nutshell, this means that as long as a vehicle meets the above definition of a CMV, when hazardous conditions such as snow, ice, rain, fog, or smoke exist, the driver of the CMV “shall”—at a minimum—reduce his speed. If you can show that hazardous conditions existed and that the CMV’s speed was a factor in the collision, you may have an additional claim for negligence per se for the CMV driver’s violation of 49 C.F.R. § 392.14.
O.C.G.A. 40-6-180 also requires all drivers to drive “at a reasonable and prudent speed when approaching and crossing an intersection or railroad grade crossing, when approaching and going around a curve, when approaching and traversing a hill crest, when traveling upon any narrow or winding roadway, and when special hazards exist with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or highway conditions.”
CMV Speed Limits in Hazardous Weather
So how much does the CMV driver have to reduce his speed? While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations don’t specifically say, the Georgia Commercial Drivers Manual says:
2.6.2 – Matching Speed to the Road Surface. You can’t steer or brake a vehicle unless you have traction. Traction is friction between the tires and the road. There are some road conditions that reduce traction and call for lower speeds. Slippery Surfaces. It will take longer to stop, and it will be harder to turn without skidding, when the road is slippery. Wet roads can double stopping distance. You must drive slower to be able to stop in the same distance as on a dry road. Reduce speed by about one-third (e.g., slow from 55 to about 35 mph) on a wet road. On packed snow, reduce speed by a half, or more. If the surface is icy, reduce speed to a crawl and stop driving as soon as you can safely do so.
Keep in mind that a Commercial Driver’s License is only required for CMVs with a combined GVWR of 26,001 or more lbs., so many drivers of smaller CMVs may not be familiar with the CDL manual. Suppose the CMV driver didn’t know about 49 C.F.R. § 392.14 and their employer failed to have a program to educate the driver about road rules like this. In that case, you may also have the foundation of a negligent hiring, retention, and/or training claim against the CMV driver’s employer.