Trucking Laws and Truck Accident Claims

When a person is involved in a car accident, he or she may be confused during the aftermath of the accident. However, accidents caused by commercial trucks can be even more confusing. Due to the sheer size of a commercial truck, injuries are more often present and more often serious.

In addition to the two drivers, there may be other parties involved, which can lead to additional complexity. Understanding laws related to the trucking industry can be important for accident victims.

Commercial Truck Basics

Commercial trucks with a gross vehicle rating of 10,000 pounds or more are classified as large trucks. These trucks include big rigs, tractor trailers and 18-wheelers. The maximum weight for a commercial truck is 80,000 pounds. Studies that have looked into commercial truck accidents have found that most accidents of this nature involve trucks with weights of 26,000 pounds or greater. The weight and momentum of commercial
trucks make crashes particularly devastating for occupants of passenger vehicles.

Federal Regulations

Realizing the significant risk that commercial trucks present, federal regulations have been passed to try to make these trucks as safe as possible. Any commercial truck that crosses state lines on its route is subject to federal regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is the federal agency responsible for registering commercial trucks and establishing regulations for their use. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has specific requirements related to all aspects of the operations of these vehicles, including training, licensing and safely operating the vehicles. Federal regulations also dictate how many hours a truck driver can drive before taking a break and the minimum length of his or her off-duty period. Additionally, federal regulations apply to documented vehicle inspection, how long logs must be kept and how records must be preserved. If trucking companies violate these regulations, they can be charged with fines and assessed other penalties.

Safety Records

Trucking companies have their record of safety and compliance accessible to the public. This information can often be critical in the case of a personal injury lawsuit. The Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System is accessible online as is the Motor Carrier Management Information System. These sites have regular updates regarding trucking companies so that people can view the company’s safety rating adjusting over time.

Commercial Truck Accident Investigation

After a commercial truck accident, it is important to start an investigation as early as possible before critical evidence is lost. A personal injury lawyer or his or her investigator may begin to collect evidence to support your claim. Some evidence must be quickly collected or preserved to avoid its spoliation. A personal injury lawyer may take pictures of the accident scene, the damage to the client’s vehicle, the damage to the commercial truck and signs of the accident on the roadway. He or she may interview eyewitnesses and get their accounts recorded while their memories are fresh. While these are common steps in a typical traffic accident, there are additional steps that lawyers must take in cases involving commercial trucks. These trucks often maintain electronic data that can help establish a claim, such as when the brakes were applied and the speed the vehicle was traveling at before the accident.

Commercial Truck Evidence

Commercial truck drivers and the companies that hire them may have important evidence. In addition to the electronic black box data, commercial truck drivers may have logs related to their travels. These logs may help establish if the truck driver was carrying too heavy of a load or did not take the necessary steps, suggesting fatigued driving may have played a part in the accident. Lawyers may be able to secure additional evidence to compare to the logs to ensure that the logs contain accurate information and have not been altered, such as receipts for filling up gas tanks or receipts for the driver’s stop when he or she took a break to eat.

Another piece of evidence may be vehicle inspection reports. If these inspections did not occur, the truck may have some type of mechanical issue that could have contributed to the accident. In some instances, the company that employed the truck driver may be held responsible for the accident, such as when the truck company did not monitor the driver’s history or drug screenings.

In order to prevent the loss of this evidence, a personal injury lawyer can send the trucking company written notice that these documents should be preserved. If the trucking company fails to preserve this evidence, it can face significant legal consequences and a weakening of its defense.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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