What Is a Trucking Company’s Responsibility to Keep Their Trucks Safe?
When you encounter a big truck on the road, you may assume that the driver and the company that owns the truck have carefully examined it and ensured that it meets minimum safety standards to help keep the truck driver and other drivers on the road as safe as possible.
Federal regulations require trucking companies to maintain their trucks to help decrease accident risk and keep everyone safer on the road. Unfortunately, some trucking companies may fail in that vital duty of care, leaving drivers and others who share the road with them at significant risk.
Just what responsibilities do trucking companies have to keep their trucks as safe as possible? Federal regulations lay out several basic requirements. For more information, reach out to a trucking accident lawyer.
According to FMCSA, vehicles may need standard equipment that helps keep them safe, both for their drivers and for other drivers on the road.
Big trucks may take much longer to stop than the average passenger vehicle due to the large size and considerable weight of many big trucks. A braking system that can bring the truck to as quick a stop as possible can make a big difference in drivers’ ability to safely avoid potential accidents.
According to FMCSA, truckers must keep the frame or chassis of a commercial vehicle in good repair: no cracks or loose or sagging materials or pieces. Any welding on the frame should take place according to recommendations issued to the manufacturer. Trucking companies cannot simply weld a damaged frame back together quickly or add extra parts that may pose an unexpected danger to others on the road.
A rear impact with a big truck can prove catastrophic for many smaller vehicle drivers. Without the right bumpers in place, smaller vehicles may slide up under the back of a big truck in the event of a collision, which may cause catastrophic injury or death for the occupants of that vehicle. Fitting the truck with bumpers or rear-impact guards can help reduce those types of accidents and ensure greater overall safety for everyone who shares the road with those drivers.
Big trucks may face greater overall tire blowout risk due to the large size of those vehicles and their heavy weight. Federal regulations lay out how many tires the vehicle needs to have, the inflation pressure, and specific standards the tire must meet to create the safest experience possible for drivers out on the road. Safe tires also need to remain free of defects, which may require regular inspections.
Windshields on commercial vehicles cannot have any obstructions or coloring that may prevent the driver from seeing clearly. In addition, drivers may need to follow specific regulations when installing decals or stickers, which may influence overall visibility. The windshield may also need to remain in good condition, with no obvious cracks or severe smears that could lead to problems.
Methods for Properly Securing Cargo
Big trucks can carry thousands of pounds of cargo. If that cargo falls from the truck, it can pose a substantial danger to everyone around it. FMCSA regulations require trucking companies to properly secure their cargo to avoid those devastating accidents. That may mean straps, containers, or doors on the trailer that adequately protect against any items that may fall from the truck. For flatbed trailers, that may mean strapping down any cargo that could potentially roll or fall from the back of the bed.
Tanker trucks may have another potential problem. Any holes in the tank could result in the contents spraying or flying from the tank, even with everything adequately secured. As a result, drivers and companies may need to regularly inspect tanker trucks to ensure that they offer secure transportation options for that cargo.
As part of the requirements issued by the FMCSA, big trucks need adequate lighting devices and reflectors to make the truck more visible and clearly signal the driver’s intent to others. Modern lighting and reflector requirements are more stringent than historic requirements for big trucks, but even historic trucks on the road must meet certain minimum standards.
They may need:
- Headlamps/headlights that make the truck visible in the dark and help illuminate the road for truck drivers
- Tail lights that activate when the driver hits the brakes
- Reflective sheeting or reflex reflectors that can improve visibility for trailers
Lighting, including turn signals, can help make it much easier to see exactly what truck drivers are doing, which can make it easier for other drivers to avoid collisions with those drivers.
Trucking companies must conduct regular inspections of their vehicles to keep big trucks running smoothly down the road and ensure that they do not develop any problems that could cause serious issues out on the road. Failing to properly inspect a vehicle could mean that the trucking company does not note a potential problem until it becomes more serious or, in a worst-case scenario, until it causes an accident out on the road.
The FMCSA notes that trucking companies need to regularly inspect all the parts of their vehicles, including:
- Suspension systems
- Wheels and rims
- Steering systems
Those regular inspections can help offer deeper insights into any problems the truck might have, which can allow trucking companies to take care of fixing any issues as soon as possible.
Before they take their vehicles out on the road, drivers must conduct pre-trip inspections that cover multiple vehicle parts. That pre-trip inspection helps ensure that drivers do not inadvertently take out a truck that could pose an unexpected danger on the road.
Truck drivers may need to look over:
- The engine compartment
- The cab
- The front truck axle
- The rear truck axle
- The trailer
Pre-trip inspections can take as much as an hour before truck drivers can actually get behind the wheel of their vehicles. While time-consuming, those mandatory daily inspections also provide a better overall insight into the truck’s condition, which can help truck drivers ensure that nothing happens on the road that could lead to serious injury.
In addition to taking care of regular inspections before each trip, trucking companies may need to ensure that their vehicles go through comprehensive annual inspections by the Department of Transportation (DOT).
The annual DOT inspection helps ensure that the vehicle meets minimum safety and compliance standards, including standards for:
- Coupling devices
- Exhaust system
- Fuel system
- Wheels and rims
The DOT inspection may also take a look at whether the truck has adequate lighting and whether it offers a safe loading experience. Furthermore, the DOT inspection may evaluate how cargo gets secured on the truck and whether it may pose any unexpected dangers. Properly securing cargo can prove essential to the truck’s overall safety out on the road.
If a truck does not pass an annual DOT inspection, it may need to go out of service until the trucking company can take care of repairs and get the truck back up to minimum safety standards.
Inspections can offer insight into how well the truck runs and whether the truck may pose any danger to the other people on the road. However, a comprehensive inspection report does nothing to take care of the problem. If the truck driver or the inspector notes a problem with the vehicle, the trucking company must take care of repairs on that vehicle promptly. Trucking companies should not send out vehicles in poor repair or force the driver to continue driving in an unsafe vehicle.
Many of the components of a big truck need replacing regularly. For example, the tires on a big truck may require replacement a minimum of every 3-6 years, depending on how many miles the truck travels and the rate of the tires. The truck may also regularly require new windshield wipers, replacement lights, or new fluids.
Failure to take care of those basic requirements can cause the truck to break down or features of the truck to stop functioning properly in the middle of a trip, which can pose a substantial danger for both the truck driver and others who share the road with that driver. The trucking company may need to meet a set maintenance schedule set by the FMCSA to ensure that its trucks remain as safe as possible.
Driver Training And Oversight
The driver serves as one of the most critical elements in keeping big trucks as safe as possible out on the road.
Truck drivers ultimately bear responsibility for all decisions they may make behind the wheel:
- How fast they can safely travel.
- When they need to take breaks.
- How closely they follow the rules of the road, for example.
Trucking companies need to oversee their drivers in a way that will provide them with crucial insights into the driver’s performance on the road.
In many cases, truck drivers may need additional training after starting work with a company. Truck drivers may receive only minimal training before they get a trucking license. In some cases, that may mean inadequate hours on the road or failure to drive under the many conditions that truck drivers may face once they start taking loads out regularly. Trucking companies may need to ensure that their drivers have received all the training they need to safely navigate those challenges.
In many cases, a trucking company’s policies can substantially impact overall safety on the road. For example, a company with policies that push drivers to continue driving despite illness, intoxication, or bad weather conditions may have more accidents in the long run than a trucking company with less dangerous standards.
Furthermore, the trucking company may need policies that ensure drivers do not receive unnecessarily tight deadlines or penalties for failing to meet them due to factors outside their control, including bad weather or heavy traffic.
Truck drivers may have a great deal of autonomy overall in their day-to-day activities out on the road. Truck drivers will often decide how fast to travel or even which route to take without needing to consult their companies directly. However, trucking companies must provide a high level of oversight for their drivers.
This move ensures that drivers do not engage in dangerous behaviors on the road, including regularly reconciling driver log books with vehicle miles traveled and timing to ensure that drivers do not make potentially devastating decisions. Furthermore, trucking companies may need to keep up with driver records to ensure that drivers do not have a history of causing accidents due to their negligence or disregard for the law or company policies.
When a Trucking Company Fails in Its Responsibilities: Your Next Steps
When a trucking company fails in its duty of care to those who share the road with its drivers, it often results in devastating accidents. A trucking company that fails in its duty of care may bear liability for an accident caused by that negligence. However, to file a claim against a trucking company, you may need to clearly establish that the trucking company’s negligence led to the accident. reach out to a personal injury lawyer.
Contact an experienced truck accident lawyer after your truck accident to learn more about your right to compensation, including whether the trucking company may share liability for your accident.