Commercial trucks and other large vehicles are a common sight on Atlanta-area highways. If you drive frequently in the Atlanta metro area, you know how intimidating these large vehicles can be. In fact, commercial vehicles can weigh in at nearly 25 times the average passenger car, which often means that in a collision between these two vehicles the occupants of the passenger car are much more likely to suffer serious injuries, including permanent disability or death.
Because commercial vehicles pose a significant risk to other drivers on the road, these vehicles are governed by strict rules at both the federal and the state level. As a result, truck accident cases can be more complicated than other vehicle accident cases, due to the web of laws that govern commercial truck drivers, their employers, maintenance companies, and others involved in the interstate trucking industry. If you are ever involved in an accident with a commercial truck, it is imperative to work with a Woodstock truck accident attorney who can help you navigate these rules and obtain full recovery for your medical bills and other losses.
This article will provide an overview of the key federal laws and regulations that drivers and trucking companies must comply with to ensure safe transport conditions.
What Laws Govern Trucking in Georgia?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the federal agency that regulates truck driving. Both the FMCSA and the State of Georgia impose strict regulations governing every aspect of the trucking industry, including truck driver duties, vehicle safety and maintenance, trucking employer responsibilities, the amount and type of cargo that can be transported, and more. Federal law applies to trucks that travel or carry goods between states, whereas Georgia state law applies to trucks that travel or transport goods within the State of Georgia. In most respects, Georgia’s trucking laws are the same as the federal trucking laws.
Federal and state law strictly regulates the following aspects of operating a commercial vehicle, among others:
- Hiring, Training and Licensing. Trucking companies are responsible for vetting, hiring and training their drivers properly, including ensuring that they are appropriately qualified and licensed to operate a commercial vehicle. Inexperienced or inattentive drivers are less likely to follow traffic laws, which is a significant cause of truck accidents. The FMCSA found that dangerous or illegal traffic maneuvers such as following too closely, traveling too fast for conditions, and inadequate surveillance were factors in a combined 46 percent of large truck crashes.
- Duty Hours. Federal law specifies the maximum number of hours both long- and short-haul drivers may work without a break. Many truckers drive for longer shifts than are allowed by federal regulations, due to pressure from their employers. Driving for more than eight hours at a time doubles the likelihood of an accident. Driver fatigue is the cause of 13 percent of all large truck accidents.
- Drugs and Alcohol. Commercial driver’s license holders are prohibited from having any amount of alcohol or drugs in their system while operating a commercial vehicle. Employers must test their employees regularly for drugs and alcohol, as well as ensuring that their drivers are also subject to periodic medical examinations. Unfortunately, many truck drivers will risk driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs or being distracted by talking or texting. Drugs and alcohol (including over the counter drugs as well as illegal drugs) have been found to be a factor in 20 percent of all large truck accidents.
- Weight and Cargo Limits. Regulations dictate how much a commercial vehicle can weigh, including establishing maximum cargo limits. Shifting cargo is a common cause of truck accidents. In fact, over half of truck rollover cases are due to a failure to adjust due to the type or weight of the cargo load or a failure to correctly navigate interstate on-and-off ramps with a cargo load.
- Equipment. Federal law governs many components of trucking equipment, including brakes, tires, lights/lamps, hitches and towing assemblies, and more. There are also specific requirements for inspections, repair and maintenance. Motor carriers must certify that any and all defects and deficiencies have been properly repaired. Over a third (35%) of all large truck accidents involve brake or tire malfunction, which may be attributable to faulty equipment, undue wear and tear or improper maintenance.
- Recordkeeping. Truck drivers and their employers are required to keep thorough and accurate records to prove that they are complying with federal and state regulations. For example, the FMCSA regulations mandate that every trucking company maintain a DFQ on all drivers. A DFQ includes information such as driving records and accident history, employment history and annual reviews, drug and alcohol test results, maintenance records, training certificates and other personnel records.
- Insurance. Truck drivers in Georgia are required to carry a certain minimum amount of insurance coverage. Many drivers carry more insurance than required by law due to the catastrophic nature of most truck accidents and associated injuries.
Tips for Avoiding Accidents with Large Vehicles
Given the risks that commercial vehicles pose on the road, it is important to know how to avoid an accident. Follow these tips to reduce your risk of a collision with a large commercial vehicle:
- Be aware of blind spots. Commercial vehicles have larger blind spots than regular passenger vehicles. A semi-trucks’ blind spots include 30 feet behind the truck, 20 feet in front of the truck, two lanes to the right of the truck, and one lane to the left of the truck. If you cannot see the driver in the truck’s side-view mirror, the driver cannot see you.
- Use caution when passing. Passing a truck can be very dangerous. When you pass a semi-truck, do so quickly and, if possible, keep a lane between you and the semi-truck while passing. Do not attempt to pass a truck on the right, while traveling downhill or if the truck has its indicator lights on.
- Know your stopping distances. Commercial vehicles take longer to make most traffic maneuvers, including turning, pulling over and slowing down or stopping. It is very important not to drive too close to a commercial vehicle, whether you are driving in front of or behind the truck, and you should never cut off a commercial vehicle. Make sure there is at least 20 feet of space in front of the truck if you must pass.
- Pull all the way off the road if you must stop. If you have car trouble or need to change a tire, move off the road as far as possible. Due to the size of a commercial vehicle, it can be difficult for truck drivers to judge how close they are driving to the shoulder, and you could get sideswiped or hit.
Contact a Woodstock Truck Accident Attorney If You Are Involved in a Commercial Truck Accident
In many truck accident cases, determining the parties responsible for the accident can be challenging. The driver could be solely responsible for your injuries; however, it is more likely that many other parties share in this liability if they did not adhere to applicable federal or state regulations. It is important to work with a Woodstock truck accident attorney to investigate the circumstances of the incident so you can determine the full range of parties that should be held liable. After a collision, an experienced truck accident attorney can also help you gather all the evidence necessary to support your case. Contact Hait & Kuhn for a free consultation if you have been involved in an accident.