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What federal safety regulations exist for commercial trucks?

Commercial truck accidents cause the most serious injuries on New York roads. Not only is weight differential a factor, but an industry that pushes drivers to stay on the road to meet deadlines also contributes.

Safety regulations are in place to prevent these catastrophic truck crashes. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) dictates when vehicle inspections need to take place. The agency also sets the number of hours a driver can spend behind the wheel. In this post, we will provide an overview of these rules.

DOT inspections

All commercial vehicles must undergo an annual Department of Transportation inspection. In addition, motor carriers – the trucking companies or individual operators who own the trucks – are responsible for making sure that vehicles are in safe operating order.

Recordkeeping requirements are in place to document and track compliance. Preventative maintenance schedules should be followed to avoid potential issues and limit the number of unforeseen breakdowns.

One newer idea is to use predictive analytics in vehicle maintenance. Unlike a fixed schedule of replacing tires at 50,000 miles; the predictive maintenance model takes into account unique circumstances and can minimize the risk of failure. Predictive models crunch large amounts of data that might come from maintenance records and sensors on the vehicle. They then analyze the data to determine an optimal maintenance schedule for a particular vehicle. Studies have also shown that equipment can stay in use longer, so more motor carriers may be switching to this model. 

Hours-of-services rules

Drivers are limited to a certain number of hours each day to avoid drowsy driving:

  • A driver of a big rig carrying property can spend 11 hours behind the wheel after 10 consecutive off duty hours – a 30 minute rest break after 8 hours driving is also required
  • For a driver of a bus or vehicle carrying people the daily limit is 10 hours after at least 8 hours off duty

The work week for over-the-road drivers rarely follows the typical workweek of Monday through Friday. Drivers cannot get behind the wheel after 60/70 hours on duty in 6/7 consecutive days.

A 34-hour restart period is required, which used to include two off-duty periods (1:00 am to 5:00 am). After industry criticism and a DOT study on potential costs and benefits of the rules, the FMCSA has decided not to enforce this provision. Unfortunately, without two overnight periods a driver may not get adequate rest before a reset.

The issues involved in truck-involved crashes are complex. An expert may be needed to uncover the cause and tie a mechanical failure to repair requests that had not been completed. In other cases, driver fatigue may only be identified with a detailed review of electronic logs or looking for indicators that the hours-of-service rules were skirted.

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