How Safe Do Trucking Safety Regulations Actually Make Us?

Trucking Safety RegulationsThe Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has developed and implemented several trucking safety regulations to help keep other drivers safe and harm-free while sharing the roads with 18-wheelers. While some people may trust the FMCSA to keep the public safe, others may wonder how safe these rules and regulations actually make us.

Today, we want to look at some of the regulations that are designed to reduce the number of truck accidents each year. Overall, we think these regulations do a lot more good than harm, but there’s always room for improvement.

Hours of Service regulations in the trucking industry

One of the most important regulations created and implemented by the FMCSA is the Hours of Service regulation. This regulation outlines how long truck drivers are allowed to drive commercial vehicles without taking a break. For example, the hours of service rule requires drivers who are transporting goods across Columbus and the rest of the country to take a 30-minute break after driving eight cumulative hours. In addition, truckers can only drive at most 11 hours after being off for at least 10 consecutive hours. As a result, truck drivers are given adequate break times between shifts, reducing the possibility of falling asleep behind the wheel, driving while fatigued, or driving while drowsy.

Without this regulation, truckers could drive however long they want to try to get a lot of hours, mileage, and to make it to their deadlines. This would put other drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists at risk of being struck and injured if the truckers were to fall asleep, veer into another lane, or even run off the road due to being exhausted and lack of rest. It also forces trucking companies to consider the safety of their own drivers, and provides a measure of accountability when they are not.

However, HOS regulations also tend to “lock in” drivers, and this can be dangerous, too. If a driver feels drowsy or unsafe during the hours that he or she could be driving, it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she can stop driving. Many trucking companies force their drivers to get on the road as soon as possible to ensure on-time deliveries, even when it’s not safe. This type of coercion is illegal, but it still happens.

Controlled substances and alcohol use and testing for truckers

The Federal Regulations Code 382.305 states that “every driver shall submit to random alcohol and controlled substance testing.” This means that if a trucking company requires its truck drivers to participate in a random drug or alcohol test on a certain day and time, the trucker must agree to do so. The regulation mentions that these tests must be unannounced, and the driver must be either “performing safety-sensitive functions, just before the driver is to perform safety-sensitive functions, or just after the driver has ceased performing such functions.” Therefore, the drug or alcohol test must be given while the trucker is driving, getting ready to drive, or right after they have driven a semi-truck.

By requiring truckers to participate in random drug and alcohol tests, it will help ensure that truck drivers are not putting other individuals who they share the roads with at risk of being injured. They are unaware when the tests may happen, and they will be penalized and deal with the consequences if they are caught with any alcohol or controlled substances in their body.

Given the prevalence of drunk and drugged driving, we think this is a terrific regulation. And it does seem to be working. Per Freightwaves:

Total drug violations reported into the clearinghouse in 2022, including positive tests and refusals to take a drug test, increased 18% to 69,668 compared with last year’s 59,011, according to the most recent statistics released this week by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. That rate almost doubled the 9.2% annual increase in drug violations reported in 2021.

Much of the increase can be attributed to violations related to marijuana, the substance identified most in positive tests. Marijuana violations increased 31.6% in 2022 compared with 2021, to 40,916. That compares to a 5.3% increase between 2020 and 2021.

Is the increased number of drugged driving alarming? It certainly is. But if trucking companies are cracking down on drug use, that’s a very good thing.

Inspection, repair, and maintenance regulations for commercial trucks

The Federal Regulations Code 396.3(a) mentions that “every motor carrier and intermodal equipment provider must systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained.” The code also states that “parts and accessories shall be in safe and proper operating conditions at all times.”

This is all well and good, but there are more than 13 million commercial trucks traveling in and between the US, Canada, and Mexico, and the FMCSA is responsible for them all. This past May, there was a “72-hour International Roadcheck inspection blitz,” according to Trucking Info, and almost a fifth of those vehicles inspected (more than 59,000 in total) were put out of service (OOS) for safety violations. Per the data, the leading causes of these OOS violations were:

  • Brake systems (25%)
  • Tires (20%)
  • Defective service brakes* (14%)
  • Load securement (12%)
  • Lights (11%)

*Service brakes are used for stopping 18-wheelers and vehicles with air brakes. They have a separate set system for their emergency brakes and for putting the trucks in park.

It’s hard to argue against regulations to keep trucks safe, but it’s also hard to argue that these regulations are working as effectively as they can be.

Special training requirements for commercial truckers

According to Federal Code 380.109, individuals who want to drive longer combination vehicles (LCV), which are semi-trucks, must pass certain training requirements. The regulation explains that drivers must pass both skills and knowledge tests. During the knowledge portion, they will be required to take a written test, and during the skills portion, they will be required to actually operate and drive a semi-truck. If they cannot pass these tests, they will not be legally allowed to drive any type of commercial truck. Note that if the driver’s CDL expires, he or she may have to be retested, which means going through this portion of the training again.

This regulation protects motor vehicle drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and anyone else on the roads because it ensures that truck drivers are given a series of tests that they must successfully pass to drive on the roads. Without this protection, anyone could drive an 18-wheeler, which may result in a lot of accidents and collisions due to lack of training and knowledge.

Driving of commercial vehicles

Federal Regulation 392.2 says:

Every commercial motor vehicle must be operated in accordance with the laws, ordinances, and regulations of the jurisdiction in which it is being operated. However, if a regulation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration imposes a higher standard of care than that law, ordinance or regulation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulation must be complied with.

This regulation put in place by the FMCSA should give other vehicle drivers peace of mind, knowing that truck drivers are not exempt from following traffic laws. But as we all know, what is expected from truckers and trucking companies isn’t always the reality of what happens on the road. When any of these regulations are violated and you suffer harm, you’re going to want an advocate on your side.

The Columbus truck accident lawyers at Soroka & Associates have spent years helping clients who have been involved in traumatic and devastating truck accidents in Ohio. Our attorneys are educated, trained, and knowledgeable when it comes to the various laws that surround specific truck accidents, and we will thoroughly investigate and research your case to determine which legal options may be beneficial to you. Please call our office or submit our contact form today to schedule your initial meeting, and one of our lawyers will be glad to assist you with the next steps of the legal process.