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Understanding Semi-Truck Laws

Just like any car accident, semitruck accidents can occur in an infinite number of ways and for an equally numerous number of reasons. Understanding the specific laws that apply to commercial carriers, big rigs, and semi trucks helps to identify the issues and preserve the case.

In part because most semi trucks travel across the country from state to state, the laws that apply to them by a combination of state traffic laws as well as federal regulations. With respect to state laws, semi trucks must abide by the same rules of the road that any other vehicle must. They are just as obligated to maintain a proper lookout, yield when appropriate, maintain a safe speed, and operate their vehicle in a safe manner just like anyone else. However, there are also a set number of rules and regulations imposed by the federal government that they must also follow. The majority of these rules controlling the trucking industry are found deep inside what is known as the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR’s).

What is a Commercial Motor Vehicle

The various laws within the Code of Federal Regulations apply to commercial motor vehicles. Commercial motor vehicles (CMV’s) are not simply defined by their size or role on the road, rather there is a complex set of criteria that distinguish CMV’s from other motorized vehicles.

If any of the following five criteria are satisfied, then a vehicle is deemed to be a CMV and must abide by rules established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

  1. the vehicle weighs more than 10,000 pounds;
  2. the vehicle and its cargo way more than 10,000 pounds;
  3. the vehicle is designed or used to carry 16 or more passengers without charging compensation;
  4. the vehicle is designed or used to carry nine or more paying passengers;
  5. the vehicle is used for commerce and is transporting hazardous materials.

Satisfying any of these five criteria automatically triggers the mandatory compliance of the numerous federal regulations.

The CFR is a collection of regulations created by various federal executive agencies. While each regulation contained within the CFR goes into detail regarding the specifics of the conduct that is mandated or prohibited, a US statute is necessary to give the CFR teeth, or to make it an effective law.

There are 50 various sections of regulations within the CFR’s ranging from education to banking to the Postal Service. The majority of laws affecting semitruck drivers are found within title 49 of the CFR’s named, Transportation. The federal agency behind much of the semitruck regulations contained within title 49 is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Title 49 is where various rules and regulations are implemented that control the safe and legal operation of semi-trucks. In most cases there may be one or two various federal regulations that may have some bearing on how an accident occurres.

An experienced semitruck attorney must be aware of exactly what regulations exist, how the failure to abide by such regulations can cause an accident, and how to prove a violation of any such regulation.

Some of the most common federal regulations regarding the operation of commercial vehicles include:

  • Drug and Alcohol Testing
  • Training Requirements
  • Commercial Drivers License Requirements
  • Hours of Service Limits
  • Use of Alcohol and Drugs
  • Equipment Inspection
  • Texting and Telephone Use
  • Load Inspection

It may not be enough for a truck accident attorney to simply prove that prior to an accident there was a violation of an enumerated regulation. Instead, most state laws require proving that such a regulation was a common if not the, cause of a particular accident. For example, if it is clear that a semi truck driver did not properly inspect his or her load the morning of an accident, however the cargo had nothing to do with the collision, then there is a possibility that such a failure to follow the regulation would never be admissible at trial.

However, creative legal thinking, combined with extensive experience can be used to make such violations central to a case and potentially prove that a driver was not properly trained, was negligently hired, or was simply unaware of important laws.