Truck drivers and other commercial operators are what’s known ascommon carriers. These drivers have a higher duty of care than other, non-commercial drivers. Since they have higher legal responsibilities as professional drivers, truckers have more laws that apply to them.
These laws are important in truck accident cases, because they trigger what’s known as negligence per se. Instead of establishing the driver’s negligence that caused damages, in negligence per se claims, plaintiffs only have to establish that the negligent driver broke a law or safety regulation and that violation resulted in the crash.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Drowsy long-haul trucker and tour bus driver accidents were in the news often recently. To fight this problem, the FMCSA has enacted a series of Hours Of Service (HOS) rules. Some of the highlights include:
· Property-carrying drivers can only drive eleven hours a day; passenger-carrying drivers are limited to ten hours a day. These drivers can take periodic breaks to stay on the road longer
· Drivers in both categories cannot operate commercial vehicles for more than sixty or seventy hours in seven or eight consecutive days (the 60/70-7/8 rule).
· Another seven or eight-day period begins only after the driver has taken at least thirty-four consecutive hours off (the 34-hour restart rule).
The trucking industry has fought hard against FMCSA safety rules. It defeated a rule that would have expanded testing for sleep apnea among truck drivers. There’s also been a long battle over the ELD (electronic logging device) mandate. This rule would require truckers to keep HOS logs in an electronic format that’s difficult to falsify, so it would be easier for plaintiffs to establish negligence per se. The trucking industry failed to convince the courts to block the mandate, but lobbyists have managed to delay it.
Commercial Drivers’ License Manual
Rules for commercial drivers’ licenses vary depending on the state, but the federal rules are always the same. To obtain or renew a license, operators must undergo a medical evaluation from an authorized provider. Moreover, the FMCSA has cracked down on CDL fraud issues, such as driving schools that are just diploma mills, where a driver does little more than fill out a few forms and then receive their diploma.
The FMCSA also uses the Safety Measurement System (SMS) to evaluate driver performance. The categories are:
· Unsafe driving (e.g. speeding tickets),
· HOS compliance,
· Driver medical and physical fitness,
· Alcohol or controlled substances use, and
· Vehicle maintenance records.
Each driver has a SMS score. A low score equates to a presumption of negligence in civil court.
With all these rules to follow, truck accident cases are usually convoluted. They’re even more complex because most drivers work for large, multinational shipping firms who won’t ever accept responsibility. So, to get maximum compensation, injury victims should team up with an experienced, skilled attorney.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Butler Tobin for their insight into truck accident cases.