Articles Posted in Safety Regulations

Driving a truck or another large vehicle takes a substantial amount of training and continuing education. Truck drivers face a series of tasks every day, including ensuring the safety of their vehicle, maneuvering difficult roadways, combating fatigue, and meeting delivery deadlines. As a result, it is crucial that trucking companies ensure that the trucks in their fleet are well maintained and that drivers are properly trained.

Truck on HighwayIn New Mexico, if an individual is interested in driving a commercial truck, they must obtain a New Mexico commercial driver’s license (CDL). There are three different “classes” that are distinguished by the weight of the truck the driver plans to operate. In order to be considered for a CDL, the applicant must be 18 years old. However, it is important to note that the U.S. Department of Transportation requires that individuals who are transporting goods across state lines must be at least 21 years old. Moreover, applicants are required to pass a written test and a three-part driving skills test.

In addition to this basic testing, some drivers may be required to take additional exams, depending on the specific type of vehicle they are driving or cargo they are carrying.

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Trucks have the capacity to cause a significant amount of damage when they are involved in an accident. Just their sheer size should be enough to caution drivers to keep a safe distance when sharing the road with a large truck. However, unfortunately, even the most cautious drivers sometimes end up as victims in a truck accident.

Truck on HighwayOne common cause of trucking accidents is related to the lack of an effective underride guard on a truck. An underride accident is basically when a vehicle gets wedged underneath a truck because the truck runs over the vehicle. Trucks should have underride guards on both the front and the back of the vehicle to protect against this kind of accident, but some do not. An underride guard is a steel frame that is fixed to the back of a truck. The guard is intended to act as a barrier so that a car will not go underneath a truck in the event of a rear-end collision. Underride accidents are often fatal and are most often caused by sudden braking by the truck driver, malfunctioning brake lights on the truck, or inclement weather.

After a series of deadly accidents, federal regulators mandated that a study be done to quantify and pinpoint the reason that underride guards fail and to determine whether regulations should be implemented regarding underride guards. As a result of the study, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a new rule that requires truckers to maintain a stronger grade of steel on their guards. Their research suggests that a better designed underride guard could help prevent fatalities.

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In New Mexico, trucking companies must ensure that their drivers abide by all safety rules and regulations. A variance from the rules and regulations not only can result in truckers and their employers incurring hefty fees, but also it can cause serious or deadly injuries to other drivers.

Semi-TruckAll truck drivers in New Mexico need to possess a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL). In order to initially receive a CDL, the driver must take and pass a written test, then receive a CDL learner’s permit, and finally take a skills driving test. Additionally, drivers must participate in a commercial driver medical exam and receive a medical certificate. Moreover, truckers are required to abide by load limits, obtain trucking permits, and obey travel time restrictions.

If a truck driver is involved in an accident, either the driver or his employer may be liable for the damages he caused. A truck driver may be held responsible for causing the actual injury. In addition, the employer may be held liable under certain circumstances, such as if the employer did not ensure that their driver followed the rules and regulations of the trucking industry. Sometimes trucking companies may try to evade liability by claiming that their driver was actually an independent contractor. An attorney can help potential plaintiffs understand all of the parties that can and should be held responsible and the proper compensation to demand from each.

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Personal injury cases are governed by certain rules, set by the legislature in conjunction with the highest court in the state. These rules range from the procedures that must be followed by both parties when proceeding through a lawsuit to the substantive rules of evidence governing which evidence is admissible at trial.

OverpassThe rules of evidence act as a guide to trial judges, helping them understand which evidence the parties are able to submit. Not all evidence is admissible at trial. For example, only relevant evidence is admissible. If a party tries to submit irrelevant evidence at trial, the judge can properly prevent that party from introducing the evidence. There are dozens of rules of evidence governing both the general rules as well as some very specific situations.

In truck accident cases, an accident victim may want to point to previous citations issued against the truck driver. However, the rules of evidence may prevent a party from submitting this evidence to a jury. Evidence of a party’s propensity to act in a certain way is not generally admissible, unless it is offered for another reason. For example, this may mean that an accident victim may not be able to show evidence of a truck driver’s previous speeding tickets, even if the accident in the current case involved allegations of speeding. This is because the law is not willing to say that just because a party acted in a certain manner once they are likely to act in the same way on another occasion. However, there are ways that an attorney can get evidence of prior consistent acts admitted into evidence in some situations.

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When an individual has been injured due to the negligence of a truck driver, the injured person or their family will often incur a series of costly medical expenses. In many situations, insurance companies do not fully cover the costs associated with the medical care and ongoing expenses as well as the detriments that the injured party suffered. These victims may try and pursue a case against the negligent truck driver, but in certain situations the company that employs the negligent truck driver may be the party mainly responsible for the accident — or at least be partially responsible.

Truck DriverTruck drivers are held to a higher standard than other drivers on the road, mainly because of the sheer magnitude of their vehicles and the disastrous impact an accident can have. Trucking companies are mandated by federal regulations to ensure that their truckers are licensed to drive commercial vehicles and are trained properly, and they need to ensure that their trucks are in proper working order. However, there are, of course, situations in which trucking companies fail to comply with the aforementioned requirements, and as a result an accident occurs.

Trucking companies are supposed to ensure that their drivers know how to control the vehicle they are driving. This means that they should be given specific training and taught safety precautions in relation to the truck they will be operating. Additionally, trucking companies are supposed to make sure that the drivers keep log books of their travel time. In fact, there are federally mandated rules that regulate the amount of time that truck drivers are allowed to drive without a break. The trucking companies need to ensure that their drivers are complying with this requirement. When truck drivers push their own limits, there are serious consequences, such as driver fatigue and inattention. Furthermore, although truck drivers are responsible to periodically inspect their vehicles, the trucking company has the duty of ensuring that such inspections actually occur and that the truck driver fixes any problems with the truck.

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Trucking accidents are some of the deadliest types of accidents that occur on New Mexico roads. Due to the number of trucks on our highways and the potential fatigue of long-haul truck drivers as they cross long stretches of open road, these accidents are quite prevalent in New Mexico. Clearly, the consequences are often disastrous. To help increase motorist safety, there are many federal regulations and safety standards that truck drivers and their respective companies must abide by. In part, these rules have been developed in response to the overwhelming number of accidents that are caused by drowsy truck drivers that push their own physical limits in order to try and stay on the road and remain as profitable as possible.

trucks-on-the-road-1449684Recently, in fact, there have been new regulations concerning how truckers keep track of their rest hours and how long a truck driver can be on the road without a break. As is often the case with regulations that may be difficult to enforce, some trucking companies have tried to bypass these rules in favor of making a larger profit by delivering goods at a faster rate. However, often it is not until an accident occurs and a subsequent investigation is conducted that this comes to light.

When an individual has been injured in a truck accident, they may be able to bring a lawsuit against the truck driver as well as their employer. Both truck drivers and their employers have a duty to operate their vehicles in a safe manner. Most people understand that a truck driver must not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, too drowsy to safely operate the vehicle, or otherwise too impaired to drive. However, since the trucking company that employs the driver also has a duty to other motorists not to put them in danger, this translates to a duty to make sure that their employees are properly trained and not imposing unrealistic driving expectations on them.

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Truck accidents have the potential to result in massive property damage, serious injury, and even death, due to the magnitude of the trucks and the subsequent havoc that is caused when vehicles of this size are involved in an accident. There are many causes of truck accidents, and even with stringent safety regulations and driver training these accidents continue to occur.

truck-on-hwy-1615510One common type of truck accident is called an under-ride accident. There are several studies that have found that under-ride accidents have the highest likelihood of causing a fatality.

An under-ride accident occurs when a smaller vehicle somehow ends up underneath a larger truck, often an 18-wheeler. The reason these accidents occur is because often the bottom of a truck is roughly 45 inches above the ground, whereas a standard passenger sedan is about 30 inches above the ground. When a sedan crashes into the rear of a truck, the car can become stuck underneath the trailer. This can also occur when a truck crashes into the sedan, and the truck engulfs the car underneath the front of the truck. Unfortunately, this type of accident often results in major damage, such as a fire or explosion, and it almost always results in serious injury or death to those in the car.

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Last month, an Illinois toll worker was killed and a State Trooper was injured in a tragic semi-truck accident. The accident occurred when a semi-truck crashed into the two workers’ vehicles on an Illinois highway. According to a report by CBS Chicago, the toll worker was on the side of the road assisting a disabled vehicle when a State Trooper stopped to lend a hand. As the two were assisting the motorist, a semi-truck ran over the Trooper’s squad car and crashed into the other vehicles on the side of the road, causing them to erupt into flames.

sunset-run-1427546-m.jpgThe toll operator was pronounced dead at the scene. The trooper was in critical condition until recently, when his condition was upgraded to serious. He is expected to recover. Police claim that the driver of the semi-truck had fraudulently filled out his resting log to reflect that he was properly rested. However, upon investigation, police discovered that the driver was actually in violation of a federal law requiring semi-truck drivers spend no more than 11 of 14 hours on the road at any given time.

Semi-Truck Resting Requirements and Rest-Log Fraud in New Mexico

As we mentioned in a previous blog post, New Mexico semi-truck drivers are required to follow certain federal guidelines dictating drivers rest a certain amount per trip. However, due to the pressures of the job, sometimes semi-truck drivers will fill out their rest logs as though they are complying with federal law, but in actuality they are driving when they should be resting.
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Earlier this week in Pennsylvania, a truck driver died after getting into a serious accident involving several other cars while trying to enter the highway. According to a report by a local news source, the truck was entering the highway shortly after 3:30 p.m. when it struck two other trucks as well as a car. A life-flight helicopter landed on the highway and took the driver to a nearby hospital critical condition. The driver died later that day.

i-haul-299523-m.jpgThe accident is still under investigation. No other drivers were injured and several of the other vehicles involved were able to drive away from the accident scene.

Truck Accidents in New Mexico

Although this accident occurred across the country in Pennsylvania, it could have just as easily occurred in New Mexico. In fact, due to the state’s location between several larger states, New Mexico sees a significant amount of semi-truck traffic on its highways.
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Earlier this week in Phoenix, several gas cylinders fell off of a flatbed truck, leading to the death of a motorcyclist. According to a report by AZFamily.com, the improperly secured load fell off the truck shortly after 3 p.m. on January 20th. Once the tanks fell off the bed of the trailer, a Chevrolet Suburban following the truck braked to avoid the tanks. In response, a motorcycle braked so as to not hit the rear end of the Suburban. A semi-truck that was following the motorcycle slammed into the back of the motorcycle, sending it into the Suburban.

untitled-1410512-m.jpgAt some point during the accident, the tanks exploded, engulfing both the motorcycle and the semi-truck in flames. The motorcyclist was taken to the hospital, but was not able to recover from his injuries. He died at the hospital. The semi-truck driver was able to crawl out of the burning truck and suffered only minor injuries.

Police are still investigating the accident. The driver of the flatbed truck either did not know that the tanks fell off the truck, or knowingly continued on without stopping to render aid. Because of this possibility, the accident is being investigated as a homicide.
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file5871343064709 morguefile username kconnors.jpgThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently called into question the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) oversight of interstate trucking and motor coach operations and recommended that the Department of Transportation perform an audit of the administration’s compliance process. According to the NTSB, a number of safety red flags were present and ignored by FMCSA officials immediately prior to four deadly motor coach and interstate truck accidents the board investigated within the last year. The four tragic incidents resulted in a combined total of 25 deaths and 83 injuries.

In addition to calling into question the thoroughness of FMCSA inspections, the NTSB recommended that efforts to implement an electronic logging system proposed as part of the nationwide Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program should be augmented. American Trucking Association (ATA) President and CEO Bill Graves stated he believes mandatory electronic logs would increase commercial driver compliance with federal law and increase roadway safety. He also said such a requirement would likely prevent truck drivers from successfully violating hours of service laws by simply carrying two log books.

ATA Chairman Phil Byrd added that the FMCSA should focus more attention on so-called problem motor carriers. NTSB Chairperson Deborah Hersman reportedly agrees. According to Hersman, the FMCSA does a good job of putting dangerous commercial trucking companies out of business, but the administration should work harder to cease unsafe motor carrier operations before a fatal accident takes place.
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file8241235070523 morguefile username Alvimann.jpgA bill that would require truckers to carry more liability insurance is currently being considered by Congress. The Safe Haul Act of 2013, H.R. 2730, would amend Title 49 of the United States Code to increase the minimum insurance levels that motor carriers must purchase by almost $4 million. The bill would also increase the mandatory insurance minimum each year based on the current cost of medical care. The bill was introduced by Representative Matt Cartwright and is now being reviewed by the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

The current motor carrier mandatory minimum insurance level of $750,000 was set more than 30 years ago. According to Representative Cartwright, that number should be closer to $4.4 million when inflation is factored in. Cartwright stated he introduced the bill because he feels the current mandatory minimum insurance levels are insufficient to adequately promote public safety and deter more truck accidents. He added that increased liability insurance minimums are necessary to ensure that big rig and other motor carrier accident victims are sufficiently compensated for their injuries.

Despite that more than 100,000 individuals died in an accident with a commercial vehicle across the U.S. since 1980, the American Trucking Association (ATA) is reportedly lobbying against the proposed measure. A spokesperson for the ATA, Sean McNally, stated there was no data to support the proposed increase in commercial vehicle insurance minimums. In addition, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association reportedly criticized the proposed measure by stating it would only serve to increase motor carrier costs.
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file000564506187 morguefile username kconnors.jpgIn late September, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill that would require the nation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to follow the agency’s full rule-making procedure when addressing sleep apnea in big rig drivers. The bipartisan bill, H.R. 3095, was introduced a few weeks earlier by more than 60 co-sponsors and passed the House unanimously. Companion legislation is now currently before the U.S. Senate.

If it becomes law, the bill would not require the FMCSA to issue any sleep apnea rules. Instead, it would prohibit the agency from simply furnishing informal guidance regarding the apparently growing safety issue. In addition, the agency would be required to consider the most cost effective screening and treatment options available when issuing any sleep apnea-related trucking rules.

Individuals who suffer from sleep apnea stop breathing for at least 10 seconds at a time during the night. Some people who suffer from the disorder stop breathing as many as 400 times overnight. If untreated, the sleep disorder can have serious and life threatening consequences such as heart disease, stroke, depression, and an increased number of truck collisions. Additionally, some truck drivers may fall asleep while behind the wheel. Data from the FMCSA claims more than one-fourth of tractor-trailer and other commercial drivers likely suffer from the disorder.
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file2811244091888 morguefile username wallyir.jpgA federal grand jury had issued an indictment for the owner of a Redding, California, facility that provides tractor-trailer and other commercial driver drug testing services. The 56-year-old woman is accused of falsifying drug test results for big rig drivers and billing clients for tests that were never performed. The owner of Advanced Substance Abuse Programs was charged with numerous counts of mail fraud and making false statements to a government agency. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison on the mail fraud charges and five years for the false statement allegations. In addition, the woman may be required to pay a $250,000 fine for each conviction.

According to United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, the charges were brought following an investigation by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of Inspector General. He said the indictment demonstrates the DOT’s commitment to public safety. Wagner added that his office will prosecute all individuals who disregard DOT regulations in favor of personal gain.

Current regulations require that anyone who operates a commercial truck or other vehicle that requires a driver to obtain a commercial driver’s license submit to both pre-employment and random drug and alcohol tests. Drug tests monitor marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine, opiate, and phencyclidine use and may only be performed by laboratories that are certified by the Department of Health and Human Services.
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file000937050043 morguefile username ronnieb.jpgA report recently created by Oregon-based data mining firm Vigillo, LLC claims state and county authorities across the contiguous 48 states enforce trucking laws in an inconsistent manner. To create the report, the company allegedly compared inspections, collisions, and citations by county based upon commercial vehicle miles travelled. According to Vigillo’s Chief Executive Officer, Steven Bryan, the report was created after a number of company employees heard anecdotal evidence that Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) inspections were performed inconsistently across the nation.

Bryan said the data analyzed indicates a number of local trends. For example, an Arizona county that borders Mexico allegedly issued the most violations to truck drivers who do not speak English. Likewise, a Maryland county apparently issued more citations related to tire tread issues than anywhere else in the country. Bryan said there was no indication each county or individual officer was intentionally focusing on any one particular aspect of enforcement. Instead, he stated the goal of the report was to demonstrate that federal trucking rules and regulations are not being applied in a uniform and consistent manner.

CSA is a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) initiative designed to increase tractor-trailer and bus safety through a decrease in commercial vehicle collisions, injuries, and related deaths. Under the program, truck drivers are scored based upon roadside inspections and other factors. Those scores are then used to issue warning letters, audits, and further inspection. In some cases, the FMCSA may force a trucking or other commercial vehicle company to discontinue operations.
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232051_semi-truck_1 sxchu.jpgOn July 1st, a new rule issued by the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regarding the number of hours truckers may be behind the wheel each day went into effect. Under the new rule, semi drivers may continue to drive up to 11 hours per day with a 14-hour workday. Drivers will no longer be allowed to operate a semi for the previous maximum of 82 hours per week without a mandatory rest period. Big rig drivers will only be allowed to stay behind the wheel after they reach a maximum of 70 hours if the driver rests for 34 hours straight. In addition, the FMCSA regulation states that the rest period must include at least two nights of sleep between 1 am and 5 am. A mandatory 30 minute break will also be required during the first eight hours of a driver’s shift.

According to the FMCSA, the changes were made in an effort to decrease the number of fatigue and other driver health-related truck accidents that happen on roadways in New Mexico and across the rest of the nation. The FMCSA claims about 1,400 semi accidents and 560 injuries may be prevented annually as a result of the new driving hours cap. Additionally, an estimated 19 lives are expected to be saved each year.

Not everyone is happy about the new regulations. Trucking industry advocates claim the price of goods shipped via tractor trailer will rise as a direct result of the new regulation. Drivers have also stated that the rule will make overnight deliveries more difficult and force more drivers onto the roads during the daytime hours when the most traffic congestion is present. Some reportedly believe this may actually increase the number of semi crashes.

Tragic big rig accidents may be caused by many factors, including driver fatigue, driver impairment, excessive load weights, and poor vehicle maintenance. The victim in a crash involving a truck may be entitled to recover financial compensation for lost wages and benefits, any disability that resulted from the accident, medical costs, suffering, and pain. Certain family members of someone who was killed in a collision with an 18-wheeler may also be eligible to recover for their loved one’s funeral expenses and other damages. Anyone who was hurt by a negligent big rig driver should contact a skilled lawyer as soon as possible following a crash.
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