The commercial vehicle industry is governed by many rules and regulations in order to promote safe driving and protect everyone from careless or reckless accidents. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (49 C.F.R. §§350-399) govern all commercial vehicles, such as tractor trailers, 18-wheelers, semis, big rigs, etc., and are in place to try to make sure drivers operating such massive vehicles are doing so with the utmost care.
Some of the rules regulating the commercial vehicle industry include:
1.) Qualification and Licensure
To be licensed to operate a truck, tractor trailer, semi, big rig, or other commercial vehicle, drivers must obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
The purpose of requiring a special license for operators of vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds, that are designed to transport more than 16 people (including the driver), or are used to haul hazardous substances, is to prevent dangerous situations and life-threatening accidents. See 49 C.F.R. §383.5.
CDL holders will have their licenses suspended and lose all driving privileges if they commit offenses which result in a certain number of traffic violation points, including:
- Several traffic violations, such as speeding or careless/reckless driving
- Driving any vehicle while intoxicated (car or truck), which in Missouri means a blood alcohol level of .08% or higher
- Driving without insurance
- Refusal to submit to chemical testing upon the request of a police officer or other law enforcement agent
In addition to having a CDL, truck drivers must be qualified. This means they are at least 21 years old, can read and speak English, are physically capable of safely operating the vehicle and have been trained to do so, are knowledgeable about the safety rules and violations, have a valid and current CDL, and have passed all necessary tests. 49. C.F.R. §391.11.
2.) Safe Driving
Besides being licensed and qualified, drivers of commercial vehicles must also obey the rules for when and how they get on the road.
For example, they have specific hour limits for how long they can drive and when they must take breaks:
- A truck driver cannot be on the road for longer than 11 hours in a row
- After such a period of time driving, the truck driver must take a 10-hour break
- Truckers cannot driver for more than 60 hours in a week
In fact, these rules even dictate how many hours they must spend in the sleeper berth above the driver’s cabin. See 49. C.F.R. §395. These rules exist because sleepy, worn out drivers are not safe drivers, and when a driver is operating an 80,000 pound machine, any small carelessness could have fatal consequences.
Commercial drivers also have strict rules regarding alcohol consumption and drug use, with severe penalties for any violation. And commercial drivers have even more requirements for how to navigate in construction zones, when crossing railroad tracks, or during bad weather, as well as specific guidelines for when they are hauling hazardous materials. 49 C.F.R. § 392. These requirements are codified into legal regulations because even the smallest violation can have grave consequences.
3.) Careful hiring
Because of the numerous laws regulating drivers of trucks, tractor trailers, and other commercial vehicles, trucking companies also face added responsibility when hiring their drivers. For example, trucking companies are required not only to check the status of the driver’s CDL, but also investigate the driver’s safety history, including obtaining any accident reports, charges for DWI, tickets or citations for all traffic violations, any record of a suspended license, etc. In addition, trucking companies must ensure their drivers are adequately trained and familiar with the rules of the road. Finally, trucking companies must provide safe vehicles and adequate insurance.
4.) Regular safety checks and vehicle maintenance
All drivers must have their vehicles checked for safety and emissions every one or two years; truck drivers must do so much more frequently – they are required to inspect their trucks at the start of each day and report any defects. 49 C.F.R. § 396.
And truckers must keep up with routine safety inspections and maintenance to ensure all parts of their vehicles are always in working order, including the brakes, lights, wipers, electrical connections, steering mechanisms, horns, emergency equipment, etc. The purpose of these regulations is to make sure that no driver gets behind the wheel of an unsafe vehicle. 49 C.F.R. § 393.
Many of these rules sound like common sense – of course you shouldn’t drive an 80,000 pound truck transporting hazardous materials if it has defective brakes. And surely you should never get behind the wheel of that truck if you are exhausted, drunk, or late for a deadline and urged to speed. Yet most major trucking accidents happen just because a driver violated these simple safety rules.
Click here to read about what happens when truckers violate safety rules.
At NB&W, we know what questions to ask, what evidence to gather, and what information is needed to help our clients who were victims of major tractor trailer collisions recover for their damages and injuries. At NB&W, we strive to make our roads safer for our families and yours. Call us today and tell us what happened – help us help you; help us protect our community. There is no charge and no obligation.
To read about Missouri’s rules and regulations for operating commercial vehicles, check out the Missouri State Highway Patrol website.