Trucking companies and truck drivers must follow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which are federal laws designed to keep our roads safe. These Regulations only apply to certain vehicles, their drivers, and owners—in a general sense, “commercial” truck drivers and companies. Many car accident lawyers will represent a client in a case involving a large truck, but not fully understand why trucking cases are different—but they are different, very different. One main difference is that truck drivers and their companies, unlike regular drivers, must follow the Federal Regulations.
Two of the Regulations that come up the most frequently in personal injury cases are commercial motor vehicle inspections and drug and alcohol testing. Inspections are critical to making sure that only safe vehicles are driven. Similarly, substance abuse testing is necessary to make sure only safe drivers are operating vehicles. Let’s take a closer look at the Regulations on these two topics:
Section 396 of the Regulations require drivers and owners to inspect their commercial vehicles to ensure that everything is in good working order. Vehicles must be inspected annually and also before every trip—the annual inspection is more comprehensive than the pre-trip inspection, but both are extremely important. These are some of the things that must be inspected:
- Steering column
- All safety devices
If something on the vehicle is not functioning properly, then it must be fixed or the truck may not go on the road. If a flaw is found during the pre-trip inspection, which must be performed before each time the truck is driven, the driver must complete an inspection report. The report must list the vehicle, the driver, and problems that were found. Then, all problems must be repaired before the vehicle can hit the road again.
It is vital that your lawyer know and understand the Federal Regulations that apply to commercial vehicles, drivers, and truck companies. After a wreck, your lawyer should ensure that all inspection reports are saved and then later provided by the company to your legal team. Your lawyer should then review all of the inspection reports and determine if any vehicle defect contributed to the crash. Sometimes experts will be needed to show that the defect caused the crash.
It certainly goes without saying that no driver should operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Federal laws require truck drivers to be drug and alcohol tested in the following situations:
- Before a new employee operates a vehicle
- After a crash involving a death
- After a crash where the truck driver is given a citation and there is bodily injury that requires treatment away from the scene (like when a person is taken by ambulance to the hospital)
- After a crash where the truck driver is given a citation and one of the vehicles involved is disabled (can’t be driven away)
- If there is reasonable suspicion that a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Before a driver who previously tested positive for drugs and/or alcohol may drive again
- Randomly throughout the year
The failure for a company to fail to administer a test when it should is a major violation. Further, drivers may not decline a drug and alcohol test, and if they do, that means they have failed the test. A driver who fails or refuses to take a test may not be allowed to drive a vehicle. When a company does not give a test or a driver fails or refuses to take it, then such information can be used against the trucking company in the civil lawsuit to show the driver was, in fact, under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
These two regulations are very important in commercial vehicle cases, and they are also very specific to those kinds of cases. Truck crashes cannot be treated like car accidents—doing so will greatly reduce your chances at maximizing your recovery.