When a large truck strikes a smaller vehicle, the long-term damage can be catastrophic. Truck accidents result in significant injuries that could result in disfigurement and permanent disabilities. Often, they result in fatalities. It is important to remember that the trucking industry is regulated by federal and state laws that set standards to be followed by all truck drivers and trucking companies. In many cases, these laws help determine who is responsible for a commercial truck accident.
The Pennsylvania truck accident lawyers at KaplunMarx PLLC have the experience, knowledge, and resources it takes to hold negligent truck drivers and trucking companies accountable for the injuries, damages, and losses they cause. We understand that truck accident cases can be complex because of evolving laws. We not only stay abreast of the changing laws in this area but also have a thorough understanding of how to apply them to your particular case.
Under federal law, a commercial truck is defined as a vehicle that is used as part of a business and is involved in interstate commerce, weighing 10,001 pounds or more. There are a number of federal and state laws that dictate how large trucks can operate. These laws are there for very important reasons – for the safety of the traveling public.
Federal Hours of Service Regulations
The Hours of Service regulation is a federal law, which spells out how long a truck driver can operate without taking rest breaks. This law is particularly aimed at preventing truck driver fatigue, which is a leading cause of major injury and fatal truck accidents. Under this law, truck drivers:
- May drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours of duty.
- May not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- May drive only if eight hours or less have passed since the end of the driver’s last off-duty period of at least 30 minutes.
- May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.
- May restart a 7/8 consecutive day period only after taking 34 or more consecutive hours of duty.
Under federal law, truck drivers are required to maintain a log of their daily activity. According to federal rules, truckers must keep track of their location and time spent on and off duty. Each truck driver is required under the law to fill out these logs thoroughly and accurately. Falsifying any information in this log is a criminal offense.
While drivers have traditionally kept paper logs of their hours dating back to 1938, starting in January 2016, federal law requires them to log this activity electronically after complaints from accident investigators and safety advocates that paper logs are easy to change or manipulate to evade restrictions on hours. Electronic logging devices automatically record driving time by monitoring engine hours, vehicle movement, miles driven and location information.
Distracted Driving Laws
The Department of Transportation passed a law prohibiting cell phone use by interstate truck drivers while operating their vehicles, which became effective in January 2012. Drivers who violate the law will face fines of $2,750 while companies that allow drivers to use cell phones while driving face a maximum fine of $11,000. States also have the ability to suspend a driver’s commercial driver’s license after two or more violations. In September 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a regulation banning commercial vehicle drivers from text messaging while operating their vehicles. A similar law also regulates intrastate hazardous materials drivers.
Federal Blood Alcohol Limits
Most states have adopted the FMCSA regulations for commercial drivers and alcohol, which set a 0.04 percent blood alcohol concentration limit. This is half the BAC limit for non-commercial drivers in most states. The FMCSA rules also stipulate that commercial drivers may not operate a commercial vehicle within four hours of using alcohol. In addition, commercial drivers may be required to submit to alcohol testing randomly, after an accident, when there is reasonable suspicion, or as a condition of returning to duty following an alcohol policy violation.
FMCSA regulations also allow for drug testing as a condition of employment, where there is reasonable suspicion, after an accident or as a condition coming back to work after a drug policy violation. Drugs that are often screened include marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates and phencyclidine (PCP).
Truck Maintenance Laws
According to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards Section 396.3, trucking companies must have a program to “systematically inspect, repair and maintain…all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.” The same section also states that all parts and accessories must be in “safe and proper operating condition at all times.” In addition, truck companies are required to maintain records of all inspection, maintenance, lubrication, repairs and upcoming maintenance for one year while the truck is in services and for six months after the truck leaves service.
Pennsylvania Truck Load Laws
The load on any individual vehicle or the front vehicle of a combination of vehicles may not extend more than 3 feet beyond the front of the vehicle and no more than 6 feet beyond the rear of the vehicle. If a load extends more than 4 feet beyond the rear, a red flag or cloth no less than 12 inches square, or if at night, a red light, must be attached to the projecting load.
Holding Truck Drivers and Companies Accountable
While these laws exist, they are often not followed. For example, truck drivers may not be diligent about logging their every movement and trucking companies may turn a blind eye to it because they want their drivers to meet tough delivery schedules. Employers may not be diligent about testing drivers for drugs and alcohol use. They may not maintain proper vehicle maintenance records.
An experienced Pennsylvania truck accident lawyer who has a thorough knowledge and a deep understanding of these laws can hold truck drivers and truck companies accountable for their negligence in following these safety laws. At KaplunMarx PLLC, we collect evidence such as driver logs, vehicle maintenance records, cell phone records and other documents that can help bolster your case and pinpoint various violations of law. If you or a loved one has been injured in a Pennsylvania truck accident, call our law offices for a free, comprehensive and confidential consultation.