In addition to following the same traffic rules as other drivers, truck drivers must comply with federal and state regulations governing their activities. Industry regulations also control the operations of trucking companies. However, many of these rules conflict with the efforts of trucking companies to maximize their profits. Sometimes companies cut corners to reduce their operating costs. In other cases, they may encourage their drivers to violate the rules, or they may look the other way when they suspect or discover a violation.
Vicarious Liability for Violations
Trucking companies also can be held indirectly responsible for a violation by an employee driver if they were on the job when the violation occurred. This is true even if the trucking company bore no fault for the violation.
Most truck accident cases are based on a theory of negligence, which means that a defendant failed to use reasonable care. Some states impose an automatic finding that a defendant was negligent if a victim can show that the defendant violated a rule intended to protect people like the victim from the type of harm that they suffered. Even if this shortcut does not apply, evidence of violating a trucking regulation will provide a strong basis for a negligence claim. A victim also needs to show that the accident was a direct and foreseeable result of the violation.
Types of Trucking Regulations
Some of the most common violations in the trucking industry involve hours of service rules. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration imposes limits on the consecutive hours that a trucker can drive, as well as the number of hours that they can drive in a seven-day period. Truckers are required to record their hours behind the wheel, but some drivers falsify their logbooks. Hours of service rules are intended to combat the problem of truck driver fatigue, which is among the most common causes of truck accidents.
Other regulations govern the hiring process in the trucking industry. Companies must take certain measures to ensure that their drivers are qualified to operate their vehicles. Among other things, the hiring process must include checks of driving records and medical histories, as well as drug tests.
Continued Drug Testing of Drivers
Companies need to conduct drug tests randomly throughout a driver’s employment and in certain situations, such as the aftermath of an accident. Federal regulations require companies to maintain records of drug test timing and results.
Some trucking regulations apply to the trucks owned by these companies. Companies must make sure that their vehicles are regularly inspected and that any necessary maintenance and repairs are performed promptly. Sending a truck out on the road when it is not safe can violate federal regulations. Companies and drivers also must make sure that trucks are properly loaded and that the weight is balanced. If cargo is not secured to the truck, or if a truck carries too much weight, this can cause an avoidable accident.
Evidence of Violating Trucking Regulations
Most trucking companies do not openly admit to violating regulations, and the rules governing the industry are complex. Thus, a victim of a truck accident should retain an experienced attorney to investigate the crash and look for evidence of any violations. This can greatly improve their prospects of receiving a fair and efficient settlement. An attorney can review truck driver logs, trucking company records, and inspection and cargo records, and they can compare this information with data from the “black box” (event data recorder) of the truck. Black box data can expose violations of regulations. It also may uncover omissions or inaccuracies in other records, which may suggest that a driver or company has something to hide.
Sometimes a trucking company tries to conceal its liability for an accident by quickly getting rid of evidence before a victim can access it. An attorney for a victim can try to prevent this problem by sending a spoliation of evidence letter to the trucking company as soon as litigation is pending. If a trucking company ignores a spoliation of evidence letter and destroys records related to the accident, a court may impose sanctions. This might involve a presumption that the destroyed evidence was unfavorable to the trucking company, the exclusion of defense evidence on the issue, or even an automatic finding of fault.