Commercial Truck Laws
American roads are jammed with vehicles of assorted shapes and sizes
Hybrids, sedans, choppers, jeeps, boat trailers being pulled by pick-ups, moving vans – all sharing the pavement alongside bicyclists and pedestrians. Largest of all are commercial trucks, weighing as much as 80,000 pounds when loaded and measuring an average of 60 feet long.
The nation’s most important mode of commercial shipping, trucks carry more than 67 percent of the country’s total freight by weight. To move 9.2 billion tons of freight annually requires nearly 3 million heavy-duty trucks and more than 3 million truck drivers, using more than 37 billion gallons of diesel fuel. Trucks are involved in thousands of wrecks each year, leading to injuries and fatalities, expensive insurance claims and lengthy traffic jams. On average nationally, over 4,000 people are killed and nearly 100,000 injured in truck crashes every year. In fatal two-vehicle crashes between a large truck and a passenger motor vehicle, 96 percent of the fatalities are occupants of the passenger vehicle.
The Kentucky trucking industry is governed by several important rules and regulations established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
- Commercial drivers license (CDL) – Every truck driver is required to be licensed in the state where he or she principally resides, and their driving record can be accessed by each state through a centralized computer system. To obtain a CDL in Kentucky, a driver must pass a physical exam, a drug test, a written test and a road-skills test. There are additional tests required for those drivers who wish to be certified to operate combination vehicles, air-braked vehicles, double or triple tractor-trailers or hazardous materials. CDLs are valid for four years, but driving privileges can be suspended for violations in the same way that a regular Class D license can be lost. A CDL is required to operate:
- Any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the GCWR of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds;
- Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more people, including the driver; and
- Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded with transporting hazardous materials.
- Hours-of-service (HOS) – These safety requirements are intended to ensure that drivers get sufficient rest and sleep, thus decreasing the risk of fatigue-related truck crashes. The rules limit the maximum average work-week to 70 hours (down from a maximum of 82 hours) and requires truck drivers to take at least a 30-minute break during every 8 consecutive hours on duty. Drivers who reach the maximum can restart a week by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off duty, including at least two nights between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. (the time when the human body most needs to rest). The rules also limit daily driving to 11 consecutive hours and the work day to 14 consecutive hours (including maintenance, loading, paperwork, etc.).
- Log book – All truck drivers are required to keep a record of duty in their own handwriting, detailing their activities and duty status within each 24-hour period. These log books are supposed to include the history of the trip, the equipment used, and the people and problems encountered, such as breakdowns, delays, foul weather and disaster. Parts of a driver’s work day are defined as on-duty time, off-duty time, driving time and sleeper berth time. Employers are expected to keep supporting documentation to verify that employee log books are true and accurate.
- Pre-trip inspection – Although mandatory, pre-trip inspections are often ignored by drivers and not enforced by trucking company safety officers. Before every trip, drivers should review previous truck inspection reports, double-check to make sure that any noted repairs were completed and check the overall condition of the truck’s parts and systems for any damage.
- Weight – The gross commercial weight, combination weight, axle weight and tire load limitations are all addressed by the FMCSA. For example, the gross weight of a tractor-trailer combination cannot exceed 80,000 pounds unless an exception has been granted by permit. Generally, a five-axle combination vehicle can carry a gross weight of 12,000 pounds on the steering axle, with the drive axles maintaining 34,000 pounds and the trailer axles carrying 34,000 pounds in gross weight.
- Visibility – Trailers over 10,000 pounds and 80 inches wide or more are required to have reflective tape. Red and white alternating reflectors should be on the lower rear and along the sides, evenly spaced and covering at least half the length of the trailer.
- Drug and alcohol testing – Professionals with CDLs are held to higher standards than non-commercial drivers with respect to impaired driving, because drunk or drugged commercial drivers not only pose a serious threat to public safety but also are a serious liability to employers. While the average person is considered legally intoxicated, and may be arrested and charged with driving under the influence (DUI) if their blood alcohol content (BAC) is more than 0.08 percent, commercial vehicle drivers are deemed to be under the influence at a BAC of .04 percent. They may also be placed out of service for 24 hours for any detectable amount of alcohol or controlled substance in their system. The most commonly screened drugs are marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates and phencyclidine (PCP). CDL drivers are subject to pre-employment, post-accident, random, reasonable suspicion and return-to-duty testing.
For those that survive them, a collision with a truck can be a devastating experience. Ordinary passenger vehicles simply don’t stand much of a chance. If you or someone you love has been involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer truck, you may be able to recover monetary compensation for any physical, emotional, and financial losses that resulted from the accident. Call the Eastern KY truck accident attorneys at the Johnson Law Firm for a free consultation by filling out this evaluation form or calling 606-437-4488. Over the past two decades, we have represented hundreds of trucking accident victims and are dedicated to helping individuals get the relief they deserve.
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