Truck drivers’ responsibilities for safely handling their vehicles may seem straightforward, but there may be more to it than you imagine. When they neglect their duties, the results can be catastrophic for other drivers or non-motorists.
Understanding the driver’s responsibilities is crucial if you’ve had a collision involving a tractor-trailer. A driver’s failure to perform required duties at any time during their preparations and operations can contribute to an accident. Truckers’ duties and legal responsibilities begin before they get behind the wheel.
Legal Oversight of the Trucking Industry
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has the Congressional authority to regulate the commercial trucking and passenger carrier industry. The agency writes and enforces the regulations and rules that the entire industry must follow. Failure to comply can lead to penalties ranging from fines to loss of driving privileges and even criminal prosecution.
The FMCSA’s oversight authority covers all aspects of the industry for individuals and companies engaged in interstate commerce or operating on federal roadways, which means that the rules they make apply to almost all truckers. Of the 3.49 licensed commercial drivers employed in the U.S. in 2021, the vast majority must comply with FMCSA rules and regulations, including their legally mandated driver responsibilities.
Training and Licensing Requirements
Operating a semi is much more involved than driving a car or a light truck. To legally operate a large truck, drivers must obtain the proper training and a commercial driver’s license.
The FMCSA regulations establish specific requirements for driver training. Drivers must obtain the proper training for the type of truck they wish to drive. The rules govern the curriculum, and would-be truckers are responsible for participating in a qualified program and passing all knowledge and skills requirements. When licensed drivers want to operate a truck with a different classification than they are trained to handle, they are responsible for obtaining the additional training necessary.
Commercial Driver’s License
Multiple CDLs require specific training and testing before drivers are eligible to hold the license. The FMCSA delineates the following licensing types:
- CDL Class A
- CDL Class B
- Longer Combination Vehicles
- Hazardous Materials endorsement
- Passenger Vehicle endorsement
- School Bus endorsement
States must test drivers on their knowledge and skills — and drivers must pass — before they receive the license they apply for. The federal agency stipulates specific requirements for testing under each domain.
Truckers are responsible for knowing the rules and regulations governing the trucking industry. The FMCSA outlines 20 different knowledge areas, including the following:
- Safe operations regulations
- Safe vehicle control systems
- Basic vehicle operating systems
- Operating under extreme driving conditions
- Emergency maneuvers
- Vehicle inspections procedures
The knowledge domains cover all aspects of safety and operating regulations and procedures.
Truck Safety Responsibilities
Once truckers receive the proper training and licensing, they are responsible for ensuring a truck is safe to drive. Though multiple parties are responsible for the safe condition of trucks, drivers are the final link in the chain and ultimately accountable for ensuring they do not drive an unsafe vehicle.
Loading freight is an engineering feat and a bit of an art form. The weight must be appropriately distributed over the axles and across the trailer. Failure to do so can cause the cargo to shift, throwing the truck off balance and potentially causing it to jackknife or roll over.
The FMCSA requires drivers to understand loading techniques. Truckers may have direct responsibility for loading cargo onto a truck. However, cargo loaders from the motor carrier or shipping company often put the freight onto the trailer or bed. Even so, drivers must check their loads for accurate distribution and sufficient security. They need to check the restraints and fasteners to make sure they are in good working condition and adequate to hold the cargo in place.
The law prohibits truck drivers from operating unsafe vehicles. They must perform inspections before they head out on the road. Additionally, they are responsible for completing an inspection report for the trucks they drive at the end of each workday. The report is a written account of vehicle performance for key safety components, such as the brakes, steering mechanisms and tires.
When drivers resume operations or take over a vehicle for another driver, they must review the driver inspection report. If any deficiencies are noted, they cannot operate the truck until it is repaired. If the driver owns the truck, the driver is responsible for obtaining the repairs. If a motor carrier owns the truck, it is the company’s responsibility to fix the issues.
Safe Driving Responsibilities
A trucking career is often stressful and dangerous. Truckers are critical to moving goods across the country. Without them, we would not have access to the materials we need and enjoy.
However, the fact that we need them to keep our economy rolling does not absolve them from engaging in safe driving behaviors. The final aspect of truckers’ responsibilities is the one you most likely think of when considering truck driver duties. This aspect covers truck operations.
Driver Physical Condition
Drivers are responsible for ensuring they are fit to drive their rigs. The FMCSA has strict standards for drivers’ physical conditions when they get behind the wheel. The agency prohibits drivers from operating a truck when they are not in a condition to do so.
Truckers aren’t supposed to drive drowsy. They also can’t operate a commercial vehicle when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While the federal legal blood alcohol content level is 0.08% for non-commercial vehicle drivers, it is half that for truckers. A truck driver with a BAC of 0.04% or higher is breaking the law.
In addition to physical conditions, drivers are responsible for engaging in safe driving behaviors. As with any driver on the road, they must obey speed limits, traffic signals, traffic signs and other road rules. However, there have additional responsibilities and requirements.
Truckers must follow specific procedures at railroad crossings. They are responsible for maintaining a safe distance between their truck and the vehicle in front of them and passing others safely. Texting is strictly prohibited, regardless of what a state allows. They also can’t use a handheld electronic device when operating their vehicle.
Hours of Service
The FMCSA also regulates truckers’ drive times and rest periods. These rules maintain safety for the drivers and everyone who shares the road with them. The more fatigued a driver is, the more likely the trucker will make a critical error that can lead to a serious accident, causing injuries or fatalities. The rules stipulate:
- The maximum length of time for each shift
- How long they can drive before taking a break
- The minimum hours allowed between each shift
- How many days in a row they can drive
The drivers cannot drive longer to reach a destination, and the motor carriers can’t demand that they do.
Truck Accident Lawyers That Can Help You With Your Case
A truck accident can be a traumatic and life-changing event. These cases are also often very complex. Often, the accident causes aren’t entirely clear, requiring an in-depth investigation to discover all contributing factors. The truck accident lawyers at Siegfried and Jensen understand the intricacies of the trucking industry and the regulations governing it. If you sustained injuries in a collision involving a semi, we’re here to help. Get in touch with us today to schedule a free case review.