State and Federal Regulations

Truck drivers and trucking companies must follow both state and federal regulations. The federal regulations are promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and include all aspects of truck driving. Among the categories the federal regulations cover are drug and alcohol testing, hours of service, vehicle marking, and maintenance. A truck driver's failure to follow a federal or state safety law is strong evidence of negligence after a truck accident causing personal injuries.

Not all states recognize the doctrine of negligence per se, but the states that do recognize this doctrine may allow an inference of negligence if the truck driver violated a safety statute, the violation proximately caused an accident, and the victim was a member of the class that the statute was designed to protect. An inference of negligence can make it easier for a victim of a truck accident to recover damages. Even when states do not recognize negligence per se, evidence that a truck driver caused an accident by violating federal or state safety regulations is strong evidence that a duty was breached.

Alcohol and Drug Testing Under Federal Law

The FMCSA drug and alcohol testing rules apply to all operators of commercial motor vehicles with a commercial driver's license. The test is designed to identify alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and PCP in the system. There are four potential testing scenarios: pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, random drug tests, and post-accident drug tests. All trucking employers must have a designated employer representative who is required to oversee employer compliance with the drug testing regulations.

A trucking company can only permit a driver to perform duties that require safety if he or she gets a negative result on the pre-employment test. The employer must also interview the potential employee as to drug and alcohol testing history, and obtain records from previous employers. When an employer or supervisor harbors a reasonable suspicion that the truck driver has taken drugs or has drunk alcohol, it has a duty to test that driver. Moreover, random tests chosen through a scientifically valid method and without notice to the driver are required.

After a fatal truck accident, testing is required, and even when there isn't a fatality, any commercial truck driver cited for a moving violation that either involved towing of a vehicle or required medical care away from the scene must also be tested for drugs and alcohol.

If a police officer pulls over a truck driver for suspected drunk driving and believes the driver is drunk, he or she may require the truck driver to take a Breathalyzer or blood test. The blood alcohol concentration required to cite a commercial truck driver for a DUI is lower than it is for ordinary non-commercial vehicle drivers. In California, for example, it is .04%. A DUI criminal conviction can be used as evidence of negligence or negligence per se if the truck driver is sued in civil court for personal injuries.

Hours of Service Regulations

Commercial truck drivers must also follow the federal regulations regarding hours of service. Truck drivers hauling property can drive 11 hours each day only after 10 consecutive hours off duty. They may not drive beyond the 14th hour in a row after coming on duty. Furthermore, they are not permitted to drive after 60 hours in seven days in a row, or 70 hours in eight days in a row. Truck drivers who reach the maximum 70 hours of driving within a week may only resume if they rest for 34 hours in a row. This rest must include at least two nights, including the period from 1-5 a.m. Truck drivers must take at least one 30-minute break during the first eight hours of their shifts.