Understanding Trucking Regulations & Their Role in Personal Injury Cases

Trucking regulations are essential for road safety, but accidents can still happen. We’ll explore key regulations, their impact on legal cases, and how we can help if you’ve been involved in a trucking accident.

Panorama View of Highway in the West at Sunset

A division of the U.S. Department of Transportation oversees trucking companies’ regulations and requirements in the United States. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) created the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which set the stage for all trucking companies in the country. However, individual states may have varying additional rules or requirements for truckers.

The FMCSA’s primary responsibility is to regulate and oversee the safety of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) and commercial drivers operating in interstate commerce. This includes regulation, education, enforcement, research, and technology.

In this blog, we’ll give a brief overview of key federal regulations truckers and freight companies must comply with and then go into how that impacts legal cases when accidents happen.

Table of Contents 

Hours of Service Regulations

Tired Truck Driver Sitting in Cab Resting Head on Steering Wheel

Hours of Service (HOS) regulations govern the amount of time a truck driver can spend driving and working each day and week. These rules are essential for ensuring that drivers remain alert, well-rested, and able to operate their vehicles safely on the road.

These are imperative for the health and safety of truckers and other vehicles on the road. For one, limits are meant to help fatigue. Driving while fatigued can lead to poor judgment, slower reactions, and increases the risk of accidents. An estimated 6,400 people die every year in crashes involving drowsy driving.

While it is legally mandated for trucking companies to stick to HOS rules, mistakes happen. The FMCSA may penalize or fine companies for bending the rules, but if someone is injured or killed because of it, a fine may feel inadequate.

Examples of HOS Rules:

  • 11-Hour Driving Limit: Drivers can only drive up to 11 hours in a 14-hour period after 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
  • 14-Hour Limit: Drivers cannot work more than 14 consecutive hours, including driving and non-driving tasks, after 10 hours off-duty.
  • 30-Minute Break: Drivers must take a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving.
  • Weekly Limits: Drivers cannot exceed 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days, followed by a mandatory rest period.

Even with these rules and penalties in place, drivers may bend them to get a little further. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) surveyed truck drivers and found that a significant number exceeded federal driving limits, driving for longer stretches than allowed. The study also revealed that drivers who broke these limits were more likely to admit to falling asleep while driving. Some truckers resort to taking medications or drugs to try to stay awake for extended periods.

Qualifications of Drivers

Silhouette of Commercial Truck on Highway at Dusk

The FMCSA’s Qualifications of Drivers outlines requirements (and exceptions) for people who are allowed to drive commercial motor vehicles. At face value,  drivers must be at least 21 years old, speak and read English (to understand highway and traffic signals), be physically able to drive a commercial vehicle, and have a successful driver’s road test and certificate.

There are penalties, fines, and potential loss of commercial driving privileges if someone is noncompliant with these standards.

It is important to note that the FMCSA is constantly assessing and proposing changes to rules and regulations. If you’re involved in a trucking accident, it’s important to connect with a legal representative whose job it is to stay up to date with these changes. At Stinson Law Group, we make it our business to understand the ins and outs of tractor-trailer crash legalities.

Inspection, Repair & Maintenance Requirements

Couple Standing in Front of Red Truck Cab

All commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) controlled by a motor carrier or intermodal equipment provider must be regularly inspected, repaired, and maintained. Employees responsible for vehicle inspections must follow specific rules outlined in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

All parts and accessories of CMVs must be in safe and proper working condition. For example, frames, suspension systems, axles, wheels, and steering systems must be maintained.

Failure to follow recommended maintenance practices and regulatory requirements poses serious risks to the safety, legal compliance, reputation, and financial stability of commercial trucking companies and drivers on the road. These include increased risks of accidents and safety hazards on the road, potential property damage, injuries, or even fatalities.

Have You Been In A Job Site Accident?

The Attorneys of Stinson Law Group practice personal injury, business, and criminal defense law statewide in both Wyoming and Montana. If you’ve been involved in an accident and need the best job site injury lawyer, please contact us for a free consultation.

State-Specific Trucking Regulations

While every US state is required to adhere to FMCSA regulations, states have the power to enact additional laws or requirements for truckers. As a general rule, tractor-trailer drivers face strict regulations because their actions directly affect public health and safety due to the large vehicles in which they operate. It’s crucial for truckers to obey these laws to safeguard pedestrians and other drivers who use the roads.

As soon as a big-rig crosses state lines, the rules of the road can shift dramatically. These nuances impact penalties, lawsuits, and more. That’s why we make it a point to know the details of the state laws in which we practice.

Trucking Regulations in Montana

Montana Scenic Highway with Rock Mountain Landscape

In Montana, various laws govern commercial trucking operations and assign responsibility for accidents involving large trucks. These laws address a wide range of topics, such as driver qualifications, vehicle maintenance and inspections, hours of service, and insurance obligations

For example, Montana’s commercial driver’s license requires applicants to be at least 18 for intrastate driving, while interstate drivers need to be 21. Montana also has a seasonal commercial driver’s license that may be issued for four years.

Truck drivers have stricter limits when it comes to drinking and driving. While the national legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit is .08%, the limit for commercial drivers is 0.04%. Montana also has an implied consent law, which means people driving commercially are giving their consent to submit to a chemical test at the request of a law enforcement official.

Montana is a modified comparative negligence state, which means in the event of a truck accident, the damages and injuries are broken up among the parties based on their degree of fault. As experts in tractor-trailer accident lawsuits, we can help determine these degrees.

Trucking Regulations in Wyoming

Wyoming Open Highway Road with Green Fields and Cloudy Blue Skies

In Wyoming, truckers need to be well aware of chain laws. The chain laws have varying levels based on how hazardous the weather is. For Level 2, commercial vehicles must have chains on at least two of the drive wheels at opposite ends of the same drive axle.  Penalties range from $250 to $750 fines for not having chains.

Wyoming truckers also have weight restrictions to be aware of based on whether they drive single or tandem-axle vehicles. However, in winter months, commercial vehicles may obtain special permits to operate at higher weight limits. These permits are often issued to accommodate the transportation of goods during winter conditions when roadways may be more challenging to navigate.

Legal Consequences of Regulatory Violations

Violating trucking regulations can lead to fines, penalties, and legal action from authorities. It may also result in civil lawsuits from those harmed. Non-compliance can damage a company’s reputation, lead to loss of business, and increase insurance costs. In legal cases, violations strengthen claims against the company, facilitating compensation for victims. Compliance is crucial to avoid these consequences and maintain operational safety.

Real-World Consequences & Personal Injury Cases

Aerial Shot of Jack Knifed Truck

Even with a robust set of rules and a regulating body to oversee the industry, accidents happen. In 2021, an overwhelming 523,796 large truck accidents occurred across the United States alone. Sometimes, these cases are due to force majeure, but other times, they are results of negligence and improper adherence to standards.

We dig to the root cause in all our cases. With tractor-trailer accidents, we know to look under the hood for a deeper cause. In our case study with State Trooper Rodney M., we explain how, on the surface, it seemed like the cause of this crash was the truck driver. While the driver played a role in the accident, the root cause was the food distributor’s overly aggressive delivery schedule. This driver was run ragged to keep up with the demand for deliveries.

Trucking Accident? We Can Help.

Truck Delivery on the Highway at Sunrise

Trucking accidents can have devastating consequences, often resulting in serious injuries, property damage, and legal complexities. At Stinson Law Group, we understand the intricacies of trucking regulations and the significant impact they have on personal injury cases. Our team of experienced personal injury lawyers represents victims of tractor-trailer accidents, advocating for their rights, and seeking maximum compensation for their injuries and losses.

With a deep understanding of federal and state trucking regulations and the nuances of legal proceedings, we are well-equipped to handle even the most complex trucking accident cases. Whether it’s holding negligent trucking companies accountable for regulatory violations or uncovering the root causes of accidents, we are committed to pursuing justice for our clients.

If you’ve been involved in a trucking accident, you deserve competent representation. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your case and learn about your legal options. Let us help you navigate the legal process and secure the compensation you deserve.