What happens when truck drivers violate regulations? The safety regulations put in place to protect truck drivers and those who share the road with them are an essential aspect of highway safety. When these regulations are broken, accidents—and fatalities—become much more probable. Below, we’ll examine a few of the most common safety violations and the penalties truck drivers face when they break these federal and state laws.
The truck accident attorneys at Buckingham Barrera Vega Law Firm represent clients in Austin, TX whose injuries were caused by trucking industry negligence. Get in contact today to discuss how we may be able to advocate for you after an accident involving a trucking regulation violation.
Common Truck Driver Violations and Penalties
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a U.S. government body responsible for governing the trucking industry in the United States, sets in place a system of rules to keep truck drivers and companies operating at their safest capacities. This set of rules regulates most aspects related to trucking—covering things like vehicle auto part safety, fueling requirements, inspection and maintenance, parking and stopping, driver training, emergency protocol, driver behavior, and a variety of other areas. The following are some of the more common safety violations and their associated penalties.
When a truck is overloaded or improperly loaded, the vehicle will experience longer stopping times, is more susceptible to becoming unbalanced, and can easily lose cargo while in motion. In an overloaded vehicle, truck drivers are far more likely to cause jackknife, rollover, or other types of accidents resulting from loss of control. There are laws at both the federal and state level to control how much weight a truck can carry. Drivers who violate Texas size and weight limits may be subject to fines ranging from $100 to $10,000, based on pounds overweight.
Breaking Hours of Service (HOS) Regulations
FMCSA regulations limit drivers to specified hours of travel and rest. Drivers carrying passengers have stricter timeframes of travel than those carrying property only. Truck driver fatigue is a serious issue in the trucking industry, and trucking companies have been known to push drivers to complete routes on unreasonable schedules. Truckers caught driving longer than legally allowed may be forced to give up driving duties for a certain amount of time and pay fines ranging from $1,000 to over $16,000.
By federal law, a non-passenger-carrying truck driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours of rest. Drivers may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. After 8 hours on the road, a driver must take a 30-minute rest. Drivers are not permitted to drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. There are also laws concerning the provision of a sleep berth and exemptions during adverse driving conditions.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and FMCSA have stringent substance use laws for commercial truck drivers with CDL licenses. If a driver fails or refuses to take a drug test, they will be removed from their duties until they have completed the required “return-to-duty process,” which usually includes an appointment with a DOT-qualified substance abuse professional (SAP). The FMCSA requires drivers with a BAC between 0.02 and 0.039 to be banned from driving duties for 24 hours. Regardless of BAC, a trucker convicted of a DUI will usually be disqualified from driving for a year, or three years if transporting hazardous materials. If a CDL-carrying truck driver is convicted of two or more substance abuse violations, their license could be revoked for life.
Recordkeeping and Licensing Violations
There are penalties for failing to complete mandatory licensing and documentation. These types of violations cover a range of illegal activities, including failure to maintain and upkeep records, falsifying or destroying records, driving with an expired license, or driving with the wrong class license. The records that may be neglected, destroyed, or falsified are often company logbooks concerning driving time and hours, scheduling, and driver history and past violations. For example, a driver may falsify their own records to conceal the true number of hours they spent on the road without a break, and companies have been known to turn a blind eye to these untruths in order to increase profits. Fines for licensing and recordkeeping violations can range up to over $15,000 depending on the violation.
Drivers who are found to be in violation of one of these types of safety regulations (or others) may be required to pay fines, undergo further training, or complete rehabilitation. They may be placed out of service for a period of time and may have their CDL license suspended or revoked. The severity and frequency of the offense will determine the penalty.
Additionally, trucking companies have their own set of rules when it comes to hiring and firing. Agencies like the FMCSA and DOT don’t regulate the hiring of drivers, only licensing and certification. Although a safety violation may not result in immediate loss of employment, a driver may lose the certification or license required to perform their job. Likewise, a trucker found to be in violation of their own company’s policies may be fired, even if they were not formally convicted of a state or federal violation.
How to Report a Truck Driver
When a truck driver or trucking company violates federal and state regulations, the lives of countless people are put in danger. Creating serious risk of harm to others by breaking the law is a serious offense. But it is, unfortunately, one that is all too common within the U.S. trucking industry. Most truck drivers are skilled professionals who respect the hazards associated with their career and diligently exercise the care necessary to lessen them. But the small group of irresponsible truck drivers who regularly violate regulations sullies the reputation of the industry, promotes and affirms dangerous practices within trucking companies, and causes thousands of preventable deaths every year.
You may not notice many of the aforementioned safety violations while passing a semi-truck on the highway. From the window of your car, you won’t be able to tell if a driver has been honest in recordkeeping or has undergone the training required by law. But there are other unsafe driving behaviors that will be obvious to everyone on the road around the negligent or reckless driver.
If you observe any signs that a trucker is driving unsafely—like speeding, swerving, tailgating, tipping side to side, carrying noticeably unbalanced cargo, losing objects on the highway, passing unsafely, breaking traffic laws, or any other form of reckless driving—try to stay as far as you can from the vehicle. It may also be best to report the 18-wheeler driver to the proper authorities when it is safe to do so.
Tractor-trailers weigh roughly 20-30 times more than a smaller passenger vehicle like a car, light truck, or SUV. When a semi driver’s unsafe actions behind the wheel result in a collision, it is almost always the smaller passenger vehicle occupants who suffer the consequences. In the most recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, 71% of people killed in large truck crashes were passenger vehicle occupants, not the truck drivers themselves. Reporting trucking recklessness can save lives.
To report a safety violation to the FMCSA, call 1-888-DOT-SAFT (368-7238) from 8am‒8pm (EST), Monday through Friday. You can also fill out a complaint report online 24/7 on the National Consumer Complaint Database. Drivers in Texas may also file a complaint with the state-level authority. To submit a complaint with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), call (800) 558-9368 between 8am and 5pm (CT), Monday through Friday, or submit an online report using the Customer Complaint System. In any emergency situation, or any time you suspect someone’s life may be in danger, please dial 911 immediately.
If you were involved in an accident with a commercial truck driver operating a vehicle in violation of federal or state laws, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and losses. Contact Buckingham Barrera Vega Law Firm for a free consultation to discuss what legal options may be available to you.