In any trucking case, you should first determine whether the truck driver contributed to the cause of the wreck. Due to the extreme differences in size and weight of tractor-trailers compared to average vehicles on the highway (a loaded tractor-trailer will weigh close to twenty times that of the average motor vehicle), wrecks involving tractor-trailers have the potential to cause substantially greater harm. Because of this greater risk of harm, tractor-trailer drivers and the trucking companies which employ them are required to follow safety regulations that are above and beyond the requirements of other drivers. The federal and state regulations as well as trucking industry standards place a higher obligation to safety for drivers and trucking companies than obligations of other drivers.
In order to legally operate a tractor-trailer in interstate commerce, the driver must at a minimum meet the “General Qualifications of Drivers” established by 49 C.F.R. §391.11. Tractor-trailer drivers are also required to meet the minimum physical qualifications which exceed the requirements of other drivers. In order to receive a commercial driver’s license, a truck driver must pass a knowledge and skill test which far exceeds the requirements necessary to obtain a regular driver’s license. Tractor-trailer drivers must have knowledge of the following areas:
Safe operations regulations;
Safe vehicle control systems;
CMV safety control systems;
Extreme driving conditions;
Skid control and recovery;
Relationship of cargo to vehicle control;
Fatigue and awareness;
In order to obtain a commercial driver’s license, a driver must possess basic pre-trip vehicle inspection skills for the vehicle class that the driver operates or expects to operate (for a list and description of these skills please see 49 C.F.R. §383.113 Required Skills.)
Determining whether the truck driver was driving responsibly and meeting the standard of care for truck drivers
In every trucking case you have to determine whether the truck driver was driving responsibly at the time of the wreck. Did the truck driver’s actions or inactions violate federal or state regulations for motor carrier operation? Did the truck driver’s actions or inactions fall below established trucking industry standards? If the truck driver did violate federal or state safety regulations and/or trucking industry standards, did such violations contribute to the cause of the wreck? These questions must be asked in every trucking case and ultimately answered in the affirmative to establish liability against the driver.
Resources to use to determine whether a truck driver is driving in compliance with federal and state regulations as well as trucking industry standards include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations Handbook published by JJ Keller and Associates, Inc.;
- Any applicable state statutes covering the safe operation of motor vehicles, including commercial motor vehicles;
- The Commercial Driver’s License Manual for the applicable state;
- JJ Keller’s Tractor-Trailer Driving Training Manual;
- JJ Keller’s “Preventable Accident Manual”;
- CSA Handbook: The Complete Guide For CMV Drivers, also published by JJ Keller and Associates, Inc.; and
- The Smith System – Five Principles Of Safe Driving.
As established by federal regulations and industry standards, tractor-trailer drivers are responsible for: (1) maintaining documentation of “Driver Vehicle Exam Reports” and the “Driver’s Daily Log” (showing drive time, on duty non-driving hours, off-duty hours, sleeper berth hours, etc.); (2) perform specific vehicle pre-trip inspections as well as safety equipment inspections at the completion of each day’s work; and (3) following safe driving practices and requirements (which includes, but is not limited to, obeying all traffic laws, maintaining a reasonable speed at all times, avoiding distracted driving practices, not overdriving one’s headlights, adjusting driving practices for weather and roadway conditions, compliance with Hours of Service regulations, compliance with drug and alcohol regulations, and insuring that cargo is properly secured). If a truck driver ignores or fails to follow these federal safety regulations and trucking industry standards and, as a result, causes a wreck he/she will be responsible (liable) for any injuries to others involved in the wreck.
 49 C.F.R. §391.41(b)
 49 C.F.R. §383.111