Truck drivers serve a vital purpose in society as they help transport the goods needed for private and commercial purposes across the company. Their vehicles, however, take up more space on the roads, require careful handling, and may raise accident potential for other drivers around them.
Truck drivers must have a special license based on the weight of the vehicles they haul, and they may need to follow regulations on the roads that the drivers of passenger vehicles do not.
Knowing and understanding those regulations not only helps truck drivers meet those requirements and raise the odds that they will stay safe on the road, it may offer an extra layer of protection to the drivers of passenger vehicles.
Who Regulates Truck Drivers?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration governs commercial vehicles and their drivers across the United States. While some states, including New York, impose additional restrictions on their truck drivers, FMCSA rules and regulations determine the minimum standards for truck drivers regardless of where they are.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations apply to any vehicle with a weight over 10,000 pounds and that transports 16 or more passengers for compensation. It also includes any vehicles that transport hazardous materials in large quantities. Big trucks, including flatbeds and tanker trucks, as well as large buses, fall into these categories.
Licensing for Big Truck Drivers
To legally operate a large truck or bus, truck drivers must carry a commercial driver’s license or a CDL. Truck drivers can acquire a government-issued CDL in any state, but they must adhere to the state guidelines to obtain those licenses.
Big truck drivers must:
- Have a regular driver’s license in good standing. A truck driver who has their driver’s license suspended for other reasons will also lose their trucking license.
- Have a relatively clean driving record, including relatively few accidents. A driver with a dangerous driving record in a passenger vehicle does not need the additional responsibility of operating a big truck, especially for long times and in often dangerous circumstances.
- Have reached the age of 21 or older.
- Pass the CDL knowledge and road tests, which require more stringent regulations than the tests required of passenger vehicle drivers.
In addition, big truck drivers must pass a medical test that shows that they remain in relatively good health. Truck drivers often spend long hours on the road, with little time to get out of the truck during their average shifts. They may have more trouble maintaining a good workout routine and spend a lot of time eating road food, which can damage their physical health. However, to maintain their licenses, truck drivers must maintain relatively good physical health. A truck driver who has a serious medical event behind the wheel, including a heart attack or stroke, could pose a serious danger to other drivers around them, so the FMCSA requires that drivers meet those minimum health requirements to get behind the wheel.
Hours of Service Regulations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the number of hours that truck drivers can spend behind the wheel during each shift. Driver fatigue poses a very real problem for truck drivers, who often have responsibility for hauling cargo across the United States. Frequently, truck drivers get paid by the mile, rather than by the time they spend in the vehicle, which means they may push themselves harder than necessary to get to their destinations sooner or increase their incomes.
Because of the challenges associated with driver fatigue, including poor decision-making, difficulty safely controlling the vehicle, and even nodding off behind the wheel, the FMCSA places clear limits on truck drivers, forcing them to take breaks and limit the time they actually spend behind the wheel.
Drivers have a fourteen-hour window during which they can drive for each shift.
The 14-hour driving window usually counts as a driver’s daily driving limit, though the FMCSA regulations note that the limitations do not fall under a strict 24-hour period. Drivers have fourteen hours during their shifts to complete their allowed driving hours. Once they pass that limit, they must take at least a 10-hour break before getting behind the wheel again.
Suppose, for example, that a driver arrives at 5 a.m. to start their shift. By 7 p.m., they must get off the road, and cannot resume driving until they have spent at least 10 consecutive hours off-duty, which means they cannot get behind the wheel again until at least 5 a.m. If the driver does not start driving until 6 a.m. the next day, they have until 8 p.m. to get off the road.
Drivers can spend only 11 hours of each 14-hour shift driving.
During their shifts, drivers may spend only 11 hours actually on the road. They must take some off-duty time, which may include a nap, a lunch break, or simply time to get out of the truck and walk around for a little while, during that shift.
After more than eight consecutive hours of driving, drivers must take at least a half-hour break.
Once a trucker drives for eight consecutive hours without a break of at least 30 minutes, they must take a federally mandated break of at least 30 minutes when they do not spend time behind the wheel. Mealtime and off-duty time both count as breaks as long as the driver does not spend that time behind the wheel.
Drivers can spend a limited amount of time on duty during a week.
The FMCSA regulations operate on a rolling 7-8 day period. If the company does not operate vehicles every day of the week, a trucker who drove a commercial vehicle for 60 hours in seven days can no longer get behind the wheel. For carriers who operate motor vehicles every day of the week, drivers may fall into a 70-hour/8-day schedule: they can operate commercial motor vehicles for no more than 70 hours out of a rolling 8-day period.
Calculating these times spent on the road can grow complicated, especially if the truck driver has spent a lot of time on the road. However, keeping up with these limits can help reduce driver fatigue and offer the driver more time at home with family, which can help improve their overall mental state and decrease many of the challenges they may face on the road.
Drivers must use electronic devices to monitor the time they spend on the road.
To prevent truck drivers and their companies from trying to “cheat” on those rules and increase the number of hours a driver can spend behind the wheel, the FMCSA requires electronic logging of the time drivers spend driving. These devices attach directly to the truck’s engine and ensure more accurate records of the time the truck spends on the road, which can help better determine how many hours the driver may have spent behind the wheel. In the case of teams who go out together, these records may appear more difficult to manage.
Drug and Alcohol Use
The FMCSA regulates drug and alcohol use among truck drivers very heavily. In fact, truck drivers may face more stringent regulations than the drivers of passenger vehicles. They cannot arrive on duty to begin a shift with a BAC of more than 0.02, which means that truck drivers can consume considerably less alcohol before getting behind the wheel than the average passenger vehicle driver. Drivers also cannot have any alcoholic beverage in their vehicles unless they have alcohol as cargo. Violating these regulations could cause a truck driver to lose their license.
Unfortunately, despite these clear regulations, alcohol use among truck drivers remains rampant. American truck drivers spend long hours on the road each day, separated from their loved ones. They may feel lonely and isolated, or they may struggle with the other requirements of their jobs. In fatal accidents, as many as 67 percent of drivers tested positive for one or more drugs in a study performed by the National Transportation Safety Board.
To legally transport the heavy cargo that they deal with every day, truck drivers must take steps to properly secure that cargo. Often, outside entities load cargo onto the truck, which can decrease a truck driver’s awareness of exactly how the loaders positioned that cargo. The truck driver, however, bears liability for the cargo within the truck as well as the truck itself. A truck driver who fails to properly secure their cargo may bear liability for their actions, especially if those actions cause an accident.
FMCSA regulations require that the driver secure each tiedown in a way that prevents it from “becoming loose, unfastening, opening, or releasing while the vehicle is in transit.” The regulation also notes the need for edge protection if a tiedown could face cutting or abrasion risk.
Tiedowns can be vital to keeping large items, especially other vehicles or heavy equipment, secured to a truck, especially a flatbed or vehicle carrier. Failure to properly secure that cargo can lead to shifting cargo accidents or cause the cargo to actually fall off of the vehicle. In the case of heavy cargo, those accidents can cause just as much damage to a passenger vehicle as a direct accident with the truck, resulting in serious injury for everyone in the vehicle.
Items that might roll around, either in the back of a trailer or on a flatbed, require chocks, wedges, a cradle, or other measures in place to prevent rolling. Rolling items in the truck could lead to a higher risk of jackknife collision or falling cargo, so these items require additional security to prevent them from causing a serious accident.
Specific Regulations for Securing Cargo Based on the Load
The FMCSA has specific regulations relating to securing several specific types of cargo, including:
- Metal coils
- Paper rolls
- Concrete pipe
- Intermodal containers
- Other vehicles, including specific regulations for heavy vs. light vehicles
- Roll-on/roll-off containers
- Large boulders
The transportation of these items requires a high degree of safety since they can all cause serious complications if they slip out of their secure location on the truck. Truck drivers must carefully adhere to those rules to safely transport those goods and keep everyone on the road around them safer.
In addition to properly securing that cargo before leaving, truck drivers should also carefully check cargo, including tiedowns and straps, when they take a break or pull off the road. Carefully checking tiedowns can make it easier to spot signs of wear and increase the odds that the truck driver will identify a potential problem before it becomes more serious.
Big Truck Maintenance
In addition to the regulations that govern other factors of a driver’s time on the road, the FMCSA has rules that determine how the owner of the truck, usually the trucking company, must maintain its vehicles. These rules require the company to carefully inspect, repair, and maintain every aspect of the vehicle to ensure that it remains safe to share the road.
Trucking companies must also have records of these inspections and maintenance requirements, which will show when the company last conducted those specific inspections. Keeping up with those inspections and the associated regulations can present challenges, since those vehicles must remain in good repair at all times to reduce the risk of an accident on the road.
A trucking company or truck driver that fails to adhere to FMCSA requirements for big truck use on the roads can face serious penalties, particularly if those acts of negligence cause a serious accident. If you suffered injuries in a truck accident, contact an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your right to compensation.