Trucking companies need to follow a number of critical regulations to help keep their drivers and others who share the roads with them as safe as possible. FMCSA regulations offer strict rules that trucking companies must follow. What happens if a trucking company violates FMCSA regulations or fails to follow basic safety procedures? The company may face a number of potential impacts.
If you've been in an accident with a commercial truck, contact an experienced truck accident attorney so they can hold the trucking company accountable.
What Does the FMCSA Govern?
The FMCSA, or Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, governs commercial motor vehicles across the United States. It serves several essential roles that aim to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities.
Creating Fair Safety Regulations
The FMCSA aims to create regulations that balance the needs of motor carriers, including trucking companies and bus companies, with the safety needed to help protect others on the road with those drivers. Those regulations govern everything from how often trucks require maintenance and how often trucking companies need to check on their vehicles to how many hours a truck driver can spend on the road.
Evaluating Safety Data
In addition to creating the initial regulations that govern trucks out on the road, the FMCSA looks at comprehensive safety data taken from across the United States to learn how to create safer, more effective, and more efficient trucks. The FMCSA may evaluate everything from which carriers have the highest risk level on the road to how specific modifications to trucks or trucking regulations may improve overall safety standards across the country.
In addition to evaluating safety information and providing regulations designed to help improve safety, the FMCSA helps make recommendations and provide educational content to carriers and truckers, ensuring that they have easy access to data about how to improve overall safety out on the road. The FMCSA may offer that information to all stakeholders in overall trucking safety, including Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
What Happens When a Trucking Company Violates FMCSA Rules?
The FMCSA may issue recommendations that can help improve overall safety and specific regulations and requirements that trucking companies must follow. Failure to follow those regulations may have a substantial impact on the trucking company or the individual trucker.
When the FMCSA, or a local law enforcement entity, catches a trucking company failing to follow basic FMCSA regulations, it may issue a written warning to the trucking company. This written warning serves as the initial evidence that the trucking company received information about those vital safety standards and failed to follow them promptly. The written warning may also help indicate precisely what changes the trucker or trucking company might need to make to decrease safety hazards and improve safety in the future.
Frequently, failure to follow FMCSA regulations will result in significant fines. The extent of the fine may depend on the regulations the trucking company failed to follow and whether they posed a danger to others on the road. Furthermore, trucking companies may receive more extensive fines if they continue to ignore FMCSA regulations or if they have multiple violations simultaneously.
Drivers can also face fines for failing to follow FMCSA regulations. Sometimes, drivers may face challenges and violations outside their control. Ultimately, however, drivers are liable for decisions they make behind the wheel, including driving while intoxicated or driving while exhausted. In those cases, drivers may face significant penalties.
In many cases, drivers will face significant penalties for failing to follow FMCSA regulations. Not only can that mean immense trouble for those drivers, but it may also mean considerable trouble for the trucking company since the company may have to train new drivers or find other ways to handle its loads.
Driver penalties may include:
- Individual driver fines
- Commercial driver's license loss
- A requirement for retraining
In many cases, those penalties can take drivers out of service for an extended period, which can cause additional struggles for the trucking company. In times of immense driver shortages and other trucking challenges, losing a driver can cause problems for the trucking company.
In extreme cases, trucking companies may face considerable penalties for failure to follow FMCSA regulations. Trucking companies can end up subject to additional inspections and oversight. In extreme cases, the FMCSA may shut the doors of a company that continues to engage in safety violations. The company may face sanctions that prevent its driver from carrying some of their usual loads or that interfere with the company's operations in some states or regions.
Accident Liability When Trucking Companies Violate FMCSA Rules
In many cases, violating FMCSA rules can substantially increase the risk of a dangerous trucking accident. In cases where the trucking company violates FMCSA regulations, the company may bear liability for the accident. That may increase the complexity of an injury claim, so working with an experienced truck accident attorney can be critical to pursuing the compensation the victims may deserve.
Common FMCSA Violations
Some FMCSA violations occur more frequently than others, particularly during periods when truck drivers may struggle to get their cargo to its destination safely.
Hours of Service Violations
The FMCSA has strict mandates regarding how many hours a truck driver can spend on the road per shift. A truck driver can spend 11 hours behind the wheel during each shift. Truck drivers have 14 hours to complete those hours behind the wheel.
After that 14-hour mark, drivers must stop driving and take a break. Furthermore, drivers must take a 30-minute break away from the wheel of the vehicle after eight cumulative hours. Drivers also cannot drive more than 60 or 70 hours over the course of seven or eight days on the road.
Drivers can exceed those hours in adverse driving conditions when they may struggle harder to reach their destinations in time. However, they can add only two hours to their maximum driving time for the day.
However, many trucking companies will push or encourage their drivers to exceed those hours, especially with trucking companies struggling to get adequate truck drivers to haul their cargo and meet their deadlines.
Trucking companies may push drivers to continue driving despite exhaustion or schedule them to get back on the road even though they have already completed their maximum hours for the shift or the week. Trucking companies may even encourage their drivers to keep separate logbooks: one for the FMCSA, in the event of an audit or accident, and one that they submit for payment.
Trucking companies may also have a policy of looking the other way or ignoring driver violations regarding hours of service. The trucking company may not check logbooks or ignore it when drivers spend too much time behind the wheel, allowing drivers to keep driving even when they have exceeded their service hours without actively creating a policy that requires it.
Cargo Weight Limits
Fully loaded, a semi-truck can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. That maximum weight limit, however, governs what cargo a truck can haul without special permits.
Cargo weight limits serve two essential purposes. First, most roads do not have the structure needed to hold up under too-heavy weights. Traveling across them with trucks that exceed that limit regularly can wear down the roads faster or even cause damage to some areas. Trucks that exceed FMCSA regulations for weight limits may need to take alternate routes in some areas.
Second, heavy cargo can increase the damage caused by an accident or even increase the risk of a t-bone accident. While big trucks have extensive braking systems, truck drivers often struggle to bring their vehicles to a safe stop in an emergency. Also, the heavier weight caused by overloading a truck can cause more severe damage to passenger vehicles involved in the accident. As a result, trucking companies can face severe violations for exceeding their load limits.
Maintenance and Equipment Regulations
The FMCSA issues strict regulations that govern how often trucking companies must inspect and take care of repairs on their vehicles. Big trucks should receive a comprehensive inspection at the end of every trip, and trucking companies and maintenance professionals should promptly take care of any damage to those vehicles.
Unfortunately, many carriers choose to avoid needed maintenance. They may try to reduce the money they spend on maintenance, make substandard repairs, or rush to get trucks back on the road sooner, even though they may risk causing a severe accident.
Failure to follow basic maintenance regulations can cause serious problems for drivers out on the road. Sometimes, drivers may not know about the damage when they enter the vehicle. As they continue to drive, however, they may discover serious problems that heavily impact their ability to safely deliver their cargo and avoid accidents with others.
Some truck drivers and trucking companies deliberately try to avoid cargo inspections, despite clear regulations indicating how often trucks need to have their cargo inspected. Going past a weigh station or inspection station can have severe consequences for drivers and trucking companies. During those inspections, inspectors can inspect the cargo and ensure that the loading company loaded it safely and that it does not create an unnecessary hazard. Cargo inspections can also ensure drivers have the correct permits for the loaded cargo.
Inclement Weather Warnings
Many truck drivers still have to take to the road in dangerous weather conditions. They have goods to deliver, and people and businesses may rely on those goods reaching them safely. However, truck drivers may need to consider several things during inclement weather.
First, they may need to slow down substantially to exercise caution for those dangerous weather conditions. In extreme conditions, truck drivers may need to pull off the road and wait until they can safely resume travel. That may mean missing deadlines or other delays, which can frustrate trucking companies. However, pressing forward and driving despite dangerous weather can cause devastating head-on truck collisions and may lead to immense problems on the road.
Drug and Alcohol Use
Legally, truck drivers cannot take drugs or alcohol within four hours of the start of their next shift. While state laws require a CDL driver to have a BAC of less than 0.04, and passenger vehicle drivers can generally have a BAC of up to 0.08, the FMCSA requires truck drivers to avoid all alcohol consumption before or during a shift. If truck drivers have any alcohol in their blood, they can face severe consequences, including license loss.
Driving while intoxicated can cause deadly accidents for any driver. For truck drivers, however, it can prove even more deadly. The much larger size of big trucks, combined with the faster reflexes and careful concentration needed to help avoid potential accidents, means that truck drivers must remain entirely sober to maintain overall safety.
Did You Have an Accident With a Truck Driver Who Violated FMCSA Regulations?
An accident with a truck driver under any circumstances can cause devastating injury. A truck driver who violates FMCSA regulations, often due to the requirement or request of a trucking company, can cause even more devastating accidents and severe injuries.
If you suffered injuries due to the negligent actions of a truck driver on the road, working with an experienced truck accident attorney can provide you with the support you need to navigate that claim and maximize the compensation you can recover.
Contact a truck accident attorney as soon after your injury as possible to discuss your right to compensation and how to best proceed with your claim, including whether you may deserve compensation from the trucking company.