Drivers are faced with many obligations both on the road and off the road. There are procedures to be followed in each circumstance. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations govern drivers to help ensure safety on the roads.
Maintenance and Inspection of vehicles
As stated above, the driver is responsible for the inspection and maintenance of the vehicle. If the driver discovers any malfunction, he is to report it immediately and have the problem corrected in a timely manner. Prior to requiring or permitting a driver to operate a vehicle, every motor carrier or its agent shall repair any defect or deficiency reported by the driver.
Each driver has the responsibility to make sure his load is safe when he begins a trip but also to inspect at least every 150 miles. This 150 mile requirement can also be beneficial in auditing a driver's log to see if it compares to what hours of service the driver actually drove. The driver must inspect the cargo and the devices securing the cargo and make any adjustments necessary. The shipper and the carrier also have obligations to make sure that the load is safely loaded.
A tired driver is not a safe driver. Based on the concept that the individual driver cannot be trusted to use his or her own judgment to know when to quit driving, both federal and state regulations impose maximum hours that can be driven between mandatory resting periods.
The first requirement is to regulate the maximum amount of hours that can be legally driven. The second requirement is that all drivers must keep a detailed log of what hours are driven. And the third requirement is to implement an auditing plan to assure that logs are kept accurately.
The drivers' log must include the following information:
- Total miles driving today
- Truck or tractor and trailer number
- Name of carrier
- Driver's signature
- 24 hour period starting time
- Main office address
- Name of co-driver, if applicable
- Total hours
- Shipping document number(s) or name of shipper and commodity
Failure to complete the record of duty activities, failure to preserve a record of such duty activities or making false reports in connection with such duty activities shall make the driver and/or carrier liable to prosecution.
It is a detailed analysis of these logs as well as an audit of these logs against other records which may be obtained by a careful and conscientious attorney, which may provide the key to establishing liability in a catastrophic wreck.
Drugs and Alcohol
The rules against the use of alcohol and other drugs while driving a semi are considerably strict than the laws which govern driving passenger vehicles.
With respect to alcohol while the legal limit in many states for operation of a passenger vehicle is a 0.8% blood alcohol content, under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations the limit is zero and a driver cannot consume any alcohol within 4 hours of going on duty.
With respect to drugs, while most street drugs would violate general motor vehicle laws, the prohibitions against a truck driver apply to any drug which can affect driving, even those under a doctor's prescription unless the doctor has advised the driver that the substance will not affect the driver's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. As many prescription drugs contain warnings about use while driving, this requirement would shift the burden to the driver to prove that his doctor had approved such use.
Drivers are required to be familiar with all aspects of vehicle inspections. They must be aware of the effect of undiscovered malfunction upon safety. Drivers are required to perform a pre-trip and post-trip inspection of their vehicle prior to getting on the road with a load and when stopping with a load. They must check for fluid leaks, bad tires, interference with visibility, wheel and rim defects, braking system defects, steering system defects, suspension system defects, exhaust system defects and cargo problems. The driver is obligated to report any malfunctions to dispatch and have the problem corrected immediately.
Driver Training and Requirements
The following list represents the areas in which each driver must be trained and have knowledge. Failure to properly train in these areas can seriously affect the safety of the general public and create a basis for a finding of liability against both the trucker and the trucking firm.
- Safe operations regulations
- Commercial motor vehicle safety control systems
- Safe vehicle control
- Visual search
- Speed management
- Space management
- Night operation
- Extreme driving conditions
- Hazard perceptions
- Emergency maneuvers
- Skid control and recovery
- Relationship of cargo to vehicle control
- Vehicle inspection