Did you know semi-truck drivers observe a higher standard of care than other drivers?
They are subject to safety regulations specifically legislated for the trucking industry.
This might raise some questions.
This article will discuss the responsibilities of a truck driver and trucking companies.
Federal and State Laws Set the Standard of Conduct for Truck Drivers
Commercial trucks are significantly bigger and heavier than your average sedan. So naturally, they cause catastrophic damage in accidents.
This is mainly why federal and state laws strictly regulate the standard of conduct that truck drivers and trucking companies must follow.
Federal Regulation on Commercial Trucking Activities
Title 49 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations is a federal legislation that regulates commercial trucking activities. It states that:
- Drivers of large commercial trucks, including 18-wheelers, must have the proper license to operate these vehicles.
- Overloading a truck is prohibited. There is a limitation on how much one truck can carry. For example, a single-axle truck can only load up to 20,000 pounds of cargo; a two-axle truck can carry up to 34,000 pounds.
- There is strict observance of quality control of trucks, requiring regular repairs or maintenance to ensure their roadworthiness.
- If the accident was due to a defect in any component of the truck, the injured party might go after the manufacturer, supplier, or mechanic. This is under the legal concept called product liability.
- Drivers must have 10 consecutive off-duty hours before starting another driving shift.
- Drivers may only be on duty for 14 consecutive hours, following their rest period of 10 consecutive off-duty hours.
- However, drivers may only drive for 11 hours at a time.
- For every eight consecutive hours, drivers have a 30-minute break.
- In all cases, drivers can only have a maximum of 60 on-duty hours over seven days or, at most, 70 hours over eight days. They need 34 consecutive off-duty hours of rest to reset the seven or eight days.
Texas Law on Commercial Trucking Activities
Texas trucking regulations give a business-friendly touch, although it shares similar directives set under federal law.
- Drivers must have eight consecutive off-duty hours before starting another driving shift.
- They can only drive for 12 hours at a time, but they may be on duty for 15 consecutive hours.
- For seven days, drivers can only be on duty for up to 70 hours. They must be off duty for 34 consecutive hours to reset for another seven days.
What Does “On Duty” Means
This includes activities that do not necessarily involve driving.
Drivers could be loading their trucks or doing upkeep work to maintain roadworthiness.
Other Texas Rules and Regulations
Texas motor vehicle laws also cover regulations concerning vehicle requirements, driver’s licensing, operating limits, maintenance requirements, and financial minimums.
Drivers and trucking companies have to comply with strict requirements on safety features. There are also guidelines for the use of alcohol or drugs, as well as maintaining minimum insurance coverage.
Liability of Semi-Truck Drivers and Trucking Companies in an Accident
As a general rule, the liability falls with the trucking company. But this comes with the following conditions:
- The drivers are the employees of the trucking company, and
- They acted within the scope of their duties when the truck accident occurred.
This means the truck drivers were performing their functions as the trucking company’s employees when they caused the accident.
So even if the truck drivers were at fault, as long as those two conditions concur, the trucking company would still be financially liable for damages.
There are exceptions to this rule.
- The drivers are not employees of the trucking company because they are acting as independent contractors.
- Deliberate, negligent, or careless choices of the drivers will negate liability on the part of the trucking company. So even if they are employees, the company will not be liable for damages if the drivers were speeding excessively or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- When the drivers are essentially the owners of their own trucking company, they will be liable because they are the same entity.
- When the erring drivers were using the trucks for personal reasons beyond the scope of their duties, then they are said to be doing so independently. They were not acting in the performance of their functions; hence, they were not covered under the company’s liability.
Other Instances Where the Trucking Company Is Liable for Damages from Accidents
Failure to comply with federal and state directives relating to truck maintenance and operation can result in potential liability on the part of the trucking company.
In the same way, the trucking company, as an employer, will also be responsible for observing due care in hiring its drivers and providing them with training.
The trucking company is liable when one of its drivers is at fault in a truck accident.
Here are the factors that make the truck company liable when such an accident arises.
Poor Truck Maintenance
The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the national agency responsible for regulating the standard of conduct for trucking companies and drivers.
Accordingly, this federal body will require trucking companies to keep their trucks in a roadworthy condition.
To ensure that their trucks are fit for the road, trucking companies must conduct regular maintenance and inspection on all their trucks. If the need arises, they must make immediate repairs.
Preventative maintenance includes checking the brakes and tires to ensure they are in working condition. Brake failure and worn-out tires are common causes of accidents, which can put liability on the truck driver and the trucking company.
To minimize the risk of mechanical failures that lead to accidents, proper maintenance should be conducted:
- Worn tires must be replaced or at least rotated to avoid blowouts
- Braking and steering fluids must be at optimum levels
- There must be proper visibility on the windows and mirrors
- Lights should be in working condition
Truck accidents due to mechanical breakdowns are avoidable with proper maintenance. Failure to comply with preventative maintenance requirements can make the trucking company liable for damages with the driver.
Hours of Service Violations
As discussed above, truck drivers can only drive a certain number of hours within a given period. This is to ensure that the driver is fit and able to get back on the road without being a danger to himself or the public.
Accordingly, the trucking company must enforce these rules to the letter or else face sanctions.
To ensure that trucking companies comply with this rule, the FMCSA requires trucking companies to install electronic logbooks.
Unfortunately, some trucking companies found ways to circumvent this directive. As a result, they put their drivers over the maximum allowable number of hours, letting them drive fatigued.
If an accident happens because its drowsy driver fell asleep at the wheel, the trucking company is liable for damages to the injured party.
Poor Hiring Practices
As the employer, the trucking company is responsible for observing due care in hiring its personnel. This includes ensuring its drivers are fit, competent, and qualified to operate heavy trucks.
The trucking company must make sure that:
- Its drivers have the mandatory license issued for commercial truck drivers
- It must conduct a thorough background check of its drivers, including driving record
- Its drivers have a clean record, free of negative marks for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Trucking companies with poor hiring practices open themselves to liability for damages if any of their drivers causes an accident.
Issues Relating to Truck Load
There are standard practices on how to load cargo on the truck properly. This is to ensure proper distribution of weight and balance.
Trucking companies usually have people under their payroll that does this job. So it behooves these companies to train these employees to load and secure the cargo on these trucks.
If their employees threw the cargo on the flatbed and this caused an accident, the company can be held liable.
Failure to Inspect Before and After Each Drive
The truck company must inspect its drivers and vehicles at the start and end of every drive.
A pre-drive inspection is crucial for the safe operation of the truck and to ensure its roadworthiness. This also allows the company to examine any issues that may require repairs.
Accordingly, the company’s personnel must check the truck’s steering system, brakes, tires, lights, and fluids. All this information will be logged and kept on record. The company will also compare this information with previous entries to see if the truck is in optimum condition.
Inspections are not limited to trucks only. The company must also ensure that its drivers are fit to operate the trucks.
Truck drivers cannot drive if they are exhausted, fatigued, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The average person cannot drive if he has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 percent. But for truck drivers, their BAC levels should not exceed 0.04.
Failure to check on the driver can open the trucking company to potential liability if an accident should occur.
Injured in Semi-Truck Accidents in Texas
Have you been injured in a semi-truck accident in Lone Star State?
You have many legal avenues to hold them liable for damages. And it all starts with hiring a semi-truck accident lawyer in Houston.
At O’Hara Law Firm, we handle truck accident claims for people who suffered from physical injuries or property damage.