What laws govern large trucks in the U.S.?

The commercial trucking industry plays a significant role in the economy, making it possible for businesses all across the country to transport goods and materials. However, because large commercial trucks and buses share the road with other motorists, members of the trucking industry are subject to a complex serious of regulations imposed in the interest of public safety.

In the United States, trucking companies and commercial drivers are regulated by both state and federal agencies. In Indiana, the regulations that govern intrastate trucking activity come from the Indiana Department of Revenue’s Motor Carrier Services Division. Federal rules regulating interstate trucking practices come from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).

The FMCSA regulates the interstate trucking industry’s driver qualification and licensing, hiring policies and enforcement of safety regulations. Their rules apply to semi-trucks, big-rigs, 18-wheelers, and buses weighing more than 10,000 pounds.

The primary purpose of the FMCSA and similar state agencies is to ensure the safe operation of large commercial trucks and buses in an effort to prevent traffic-related accidents, injuries, and fatalities involving these vehicles.

However, while safety regulations protect the public, opponents claim they can be hard on a trucker driver’s paycheck or a trucking company’s bottom line. As a result, unscrupulous drivers and companies may skirt or even outright violate federal and state safety regulations in the interest of profit. When this happens, it puts everyone on the road at risk.

Regulations for Trucking Companies

In order to receive operating authority and an USDOT identification number, a trucking company—

also known as a carrier—must register with the U.S. Department of Transportation and agree to comply with regulations regarding safety, carrier and employer responsibilities, driver fitness, and financial liability requirements.

As part of their agreement with the USDOT, carriers are required to supervise all aspects of driver, employee, and independent contractor conduct, including:

  • Service documentation
  • Records preservation
  • Hiring
  • Supervision
  • Employee/independent contractor retention
  • Training
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Weight and size restrictions
  • Financial responsibility
  • Post-accident testing for drivers

Regulations for Commercial Drivers

In order to ensure a truck driver is qualified for the job, federal regulations require them to obtain a commercial driver’s license, also known as a CDL. Commercial truck drivers must also:

  • Complete daily hours-of service logs
  • Inspect vehicles before and after each shift, and produce a daily examination report
  • Abide by all traffic rules and regulations
  • Safely secure their cargo
  • Avoid using electronic devices behind the wheel
  • Comply with hours-of-service rules that mandate rest and cap the hours a driver can work per shift and week
  • Undergo and pass medical fitness exams

Regulations Enforcement, Violations, and Penalties

The FMCSA and state regulatory agencies have their work cut out for them when it comes to enforcing their safety regulations. Although FMCSA enforcement methods include roadside inspections, compliance reviews, trucking terminal audits, and complaint investigations, FMCSA inspectors can’t be everywhere at once; thus, regulations compliance is sometimes left up to the honor system.

However, trucking companies or drivers caught violating federal or state regulations face stiff fines and penalties. Those who commit serious infractions or who are caught repeatedly violating the rules may receive driver or vehicle out-of-service orders from federal inspectors.

Were You Injured in a Truck Accident?

Despite the potential for being fined or taken off the road, commercial truck drivers and trucking companies still violate federal and state safety regulations. If a safety violation causes a serious truck accident, the driver—and possibly the carrier—could be liable for damages.

Were you or someone you love injured in a truck accident? Randy Sevenish of Sevenish Law can help you explore your legal options and determine if you’re eligible to seek compensation for your injuries. Contact Sevenish Law today to schedule a free initial case review.