When an 18-wheeler is carrying a full load, it can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds or more. When a large truck with a full load is traveling at highway speeds night and day and in any weather, they present a potential hazard. When you consider that many trucks are carrying loads that are potentially flammable, toxic or worse, the potential for disaster in any crash involving a truck is easy to envision. Unfortunately, too often, Texas drivers don’t have to envision it because they experience it.
Throughout the United States, there are more than 2 million large trucks using the roads and highways to haul their loads anywhere from a mile away to 3,000 miles or more. Every year, there are about 500,000 truck accidents leading to about 130,000 injuries and 5,000 deaths. Not surprisingly, about 98 percent of the fatalities in accidents between large trucks and normal passenger vehicles are someone in the other vehicle. In the state of Texas alone, there are more than 15,000 trucking accidents every year, leading to more than 2,000 injuries and about 300 fatalities. That comes to one injury for every seven accidents and one death for every 50 accidents.
Put simply, trucks are a very real hazard on the roadway. To make it possible for large trucks to share the road safely with the rest of us, the federal government enacted the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which are enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). That means, in addition to the basic rules and regulations that every driver on the road must follow, there is a set of very stringent rules that truck drivers and trucking companies must follow over and above those.
Overall, the FMCSA rules are considered minimum safety standards that apply to both drivers and trucking companies. They are requirements that everyone operating a commercial motor vehicle to transport property or passengers must follow. For example, drivers of large trucks are generally required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL), which requires the driver be over 21, to meet residency and medical requirements and to pass certain skills and knowledge tests, which usually means they must demonstrate that they have been fully trained to drive the truck. The rules require that trucking companies prove that their drivers are “qualified” at any time, which means they must be able to document everything when the FMCSA or any other safety body asks for it.
Distracted Truck Drivers
The FMCSA doesn’t just set basic standards, they also prohibit unsafe driving practices. Among those that are major causes of truck accidents include speeding, tailgating, improper lane changes, and failing to yield the right-of-way. Because their goal is to reduce the number of truck crashes caused by unsafe driving, they have dedicated an entire section of the rules to deal with each one of the above. There are special rules for driving during adverse weather conditions, of course and they have also implemented cellphone use restrictions and texting is banned while driving. It doesn’t matter that Texas has no restrictions on texting; if you’re legally driving a truck on a CDL, you are forbidden.
The texting ban and the limitations on cellphone use are examples of changes that have been made in the FMCSA regulations over the years as a response to growing problems that create an even greater hazard to other drivers on the road. For example, as dangerous as a truck is normally, imagine a truck barreling down a Texas highway at 75 miles per hour or more being operated by someone who was under the influence. That is why truck regulations require drivers to undergo a required drug and alcohol testing program, including required pre-employment screening and random testing, in addition to testing after every accident and when the employer has a reasonable suspicion that a driver is operating under the influence.
Another example of regularly changing FMCSA trucking regulations comes with “Hours of Service” regulations. That’s because being awake and alert is essential to safely driving any vehicle. Driver fatigue is often cited as a factor in far too many truck accidents. The Hours of Service limits place restrictions on the number of hours a truck driver can operate their vehicle at one stretch. Sometimes, drivers are required to keep a log to document compliance, but increasingly, trucking companies are outfitting vehicles with electronic means to make sure drivers aren’t overdoing it.
There are also rules regarding truck maintenance, to limit the number of parts failures, especially when it comes to tires, brakes and steering. The FMCSA believes that truck maintenance is akin to having regular doctor visits to identify health issues before they become more serious, which is why regulations include very specific and detailed set of component standards, including requirements for the type, quantity, color and location of lighting fixtures, as well as rules having to do with glass, windows, emergency equipment, cargo securement and other areas of the truck. Most importantly, there are specific inspection requirements regarding overall maintenance, including how often it should be performed, what should be covered and how long records should be kept.