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Who is Responsible for Commercial Truck Safety?

Our roadways are designed to be shared with many different types of vehicles, some of which are owned by companies to transport goods over long distances. These commercial trucks are very large and require a significantly more complicated level of maintenance than the average passenger vehicle. If this maintenance isn’t taken care of, these vehicles can be dangerous to have on the road. The responsibility for maintaining commercial motor vehicles is split between multiple parties, and these parties have to work in tandem to ensure that large trucks and other vehicles are maintained in a way that keeps both employees and other drivers safe.

Which Government Agencies are Responsible for Commercial Truck Safety?

The FMCSA, also known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, is the lead federal government entity that is responsible for ensuring commercial vehicles remain safe enough to be on the roads. This group provides oversight for more than 500,000 companies that run commercial trucks, more than 4,000,000 drivers with commercial licenses, and over 4,000 bus companies that have interstate routes. Specifically, The FMCSA:

  • Researches and implements regulations based on data that balance the safety of commercial motor carriers with efficiency
  • Collects safety information in order to enforce safety regulation on carriers that are higher risk
  • Creates and distributes educational messages to drivers, the companies they work for, and the general public
  • Works with shareholders, including local and federal law enforcement agencies and safety groups, to reduce crashes caused by or involving commercial trucks

The FMCSA has also created a few specific safety programs that have helped keep drivers and their trucks safe on the road. These programs include:

  • Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA): This program was created to keep companies and their drivers accountable for the role they play in safety on the road. The CSA works to identify motor carriers with current safety issues so the FMCSA can intervene through warnings and investigations if necessary.
  • Safety Measurement System (SMS): The Safety Measurement System is designed to collected safety data from motor carriers monthly. It collects information such as results from inspections, documented vehicle and driver violations, any available crash reports, and results from any investigations into the company.
  • Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP): The Pre-Employment Screening Program offered by the FMCSA helps motor carrier companies make wise hiring choices by providing them with access to any commercial driver’s crash and inspection history from the past 5 years.
  • New Entrant Safety Assurance Program: This program monitors new motor carriers in the United States and Canada for 18 months after receiving their U.S. Department of Transportation credentials. It ensures that new companies operate safely, keep their records up-to-date, perform inspections and maintenance on their vehicles, and pass a safety audit.

What Responsibilities Do Trucking Companies Have to Keep Their Fleets Safe?

Although the government has a hand in ensuring that commercial trucks are being driven in a safe manner on American roads, the companies who use the trucks have to do most of the work. The government is able to make sure that companies are following guidelines, but the companies themselves have to follow through. Some of the actions companies have to take to ensure safe commercial truck use include (but are not limited to):

  • Maintain files for each driver: Many companies employ multiple truck drivers, and large companies can have hundreds of drivers out on the roads each day. A log must be kept about each driver, including information such as their prior work experience, their references from previous jobs, copies of their commercial driver’s license, a medical certificate received after a mandatory annual physical, road tests results verified by the person administering the text, and drug test results. These records are kept in an effort to ensure that all drivers are qualified and operating safely and responsibly.
  • Review the driver’s logs: Companies that have commercial truck drivers employed must review all logs kept by their drivers to ensure their drivers haven’t committed any violations of the law and/or their company policies. Reviewing these logs allows the company the chance to take action to correct mistakes their drivers are making and to reprimand drivers making dangerous or irresponsible choices on the road. These logs must be kept for 6 months at minimum.
  • Comply with federal commercial vehicle law: Any company with a commercial truck fleet must comply with any and all laws that pertain to their specific situation. These laws range from ensuring the safety of the vehicles themselves to keeping safe driving hours for their drivers.
  • Keep records for each vehicle in their fleet: Similar to the records that must be kept for each driver, companies with commercial truck fleets must keep records for each vehicle in their fleet for at least 30 days. These records must include basic information about each vehicle, such as the license plate number and tire size, when the next inspections are due, the results of the last inspection that was performed, and any history of maintenance and repairs.

What Safety Responsibilities Do Commercial Truck Drivers Have?

The federal government and companies with commercial truck fleets work in tandem to keep trucks and drivers safe, but it is ultimately up to drivers to ensure safety when the vehicle is in motion. Drivers of commercial trucks and other commercial vehicles are trusted to bring goods across long distances while keeping themselves and other drivers safe. Some of the responsibilities that drivers have to maintain safety on the road include:

  • Proper licensing: Arguably the most important safety measure a commercial truck driver can take is ensuring that they are properly licensed. All commercial truck drivers must hold a commercial driver’s license, also known as a CDL. CDLs are given based on weight classes for different vehicles, and drivers can only drive within the weight class they are licensed for. Drivers can only legally hold a license in one weight class. In addition to the CDL, drivers must undergo additional testing if they plan to drive double trailers, triple trailers, or if they want to work for a company that transports materials that are hazardous.
  • Follow driving time guidelines: There is a federal limit to how many hours a day and which hours in a day commercial truck drivers can operate. These are called the HOS (hours of service) guidelines. Each day, there is a 14-hour window in which commercial drivers can operate after 10 consecutive hours of rest. In this time window, a driver cannot drive more than 11 hours. After 8 hours of consecutive driving, all drivers must take a break that is at least 30 minutes long. Drivers can also only operate for a total of 60 hours in a 7-day period. While these restrictions might seem specific, they were created to keep drivers from working too much and potentially driving in a tired, unsafe state.
  • Keep logs: Each company must review their driver’s logs on a regular basis, and drivers must fill out their logs for their companies to be able to do so. Drivers must use an ELD, or an electronic logging device, to record how long they’ve driven, their vehicle’s movement, how many miles they’ve driven, and their exact location. These logs are open to inspection from the government as well.
  • Vehicle inspections: Drivers are responsible for conducting simple vehicle inspections that check for obvious problems that could result in an accident. In these inspections, drivers check their brakes, mirrors, turn signals, headlights, tires, engine, etc.

Ultimately, there is no single entity that is responsible for maintaining the safety of commercial trucks and their drivers. Many different parties have to work in unison to ensure that commercial trucks are safe to operate and that their drivers are using them in a responsible and ethical way. Even drivers of average passenger vehicles can get involved in ensuring commercial truck safety by reporting any suspicious or unsafe activity they see on the road.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you have been involved in an accident with a commercial truck that you believe should not have been on the road, contact Rash Mueller today. Commercial truck accident can even happen when all of the proper safety protocols were followed, but they are frequently caused by irresponsible companies or drivers that don’t follow the proper processes. We provide personalized and empathetic legal service to our clients and have over 40 years of experience collectively. We have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for our clients and want to hear your case. Contact us today at (954) 914-7116 or via our contact page.