Commercial Trucking Laws in Tennessee

When a commercial truck is involved in a serious or fatal collision, investigators look first to the driver to determine the cause of the vehicle accident. Police officers may examine a driver’s license, paperwork, and log book, as well as test the driver for the presence of drugs and alcohol. Investigators study the scene and look for clues like skid marks, piecing together the events that led to the crash.

While the immediate focus may be on the driver, a less obvious contributing factor could be the company that owns the truck, or the driver’s manager. Every year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration levies millions of dollars in civil penalties against trucking and passenger carrier companies for violations of federal law. Those violations may include failing to properly maintain vehicles, forcing drivers to work longer hours than allowed by law, and failing to drug-test, train, or screen drivers.

Commercial trucking companies that disregard the law are putting their own drivers at risk, as well as endangering other motorists on the road. Truck drivers may share some liability for a crash, but companies that put their workers into dangerous vehicles or force them to break the law should be held accountable.

If you’ve been injured in a crash with a commercial truck, we can help you understand your options. The law office of John R. Colvin has represented personal injury victims throughout the Tennessee Valley, helping them achieve the best outcome possible.

Call us today to find out if you have a case: 1-844-683-6229.

Unscrupulous Oversight

In November 2015, the FMCSA announced a final rule that allows it to pursue action against individuals who coerce truck and bus drivers into violating safety regulations. Whereas before, the FMCSA could go after trucking companies that forced drivers to violate the law, now any individual in the transportation chain – brokers, receivers, freight forwarders – could be subject to civil penalties, too.

As an explanation of why this rule was necessary, the FMCSA said several drivers had reported that they were coerced into violating hours-of-service limitations that are designed to ensure drivers get adequate rest. Some drivers told the agency that they were threatened with job termination, pay cuts, a loss of favorable work hours, or a reduction in hours, if they didn’t follow orders requiring them to violate the law.

The new rule also improves whistleblower protection for drivers, strengthening communication between the FMCSA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency that oversees whistleblower complaints.

In 2012, OSHA intervened in two whistleblower cases against Tennessee trucking companies. In one case, a truck driver had been fired after he complained multiple times about driving defective trucks. He told his employer he wouldn’t drive faulty vehicles in the future, and the company terminated his employment. OSHA ordered the company to pay the man back wages for wrongful termination.

In another case, a company fired a driver who was recovering from an on-the-job injury after he said he couldn’t make a delivery because he was ill/fatigued, and the delivery would put him above the maximum number of allowable driving hours. OSHA ordered the company to pay him $180,000 in back wages, interest, and compensatory and punitive damages.

Those OSHA enforcements demonstrate that some trucking companies value profits over the health and safety of their workers. Fleet owners and managers owe it to their employees to create safe working environments and ensure their vehicles are road-worthy.

Vehicle Failures

Every year since 1988, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance has conducted a three-day safety inspection, spanning the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Thousands of inspectors evaluate commercial vehicles and their drivers, and in addition to a general inspection, each year also has a designated safety focus; in 2015, the focus was secured loads.

Inspectors evaluated 69,472 trucks and buses and issued 2,439 citations for improperly secured loads. The most commonly cited problem was a failure to prevent shifting/loss of load.

In all, inspectors issued fewer citations in 2015 than in previous years, placing 3.6 percent of drivers and 21.6 percent of vehicles out of service (OOS) for safety violations. Among OOS vehicles, the most common violations were brake systems (27.5 percent), brake adjustment (15.5 percent), safe loading, and tire/wheel problems. Of the OOS drivers, 46 percent were in violation of hours-of-service restrictions.

These annual inspections have definitely made roadways safer and perhaps alerted drivers to issues they weren’t aware of. An unsecured load, faulty brakes, or worn tires could increase a driver’s risk of a crash, so routine inspection and maintenance should be a priority for trucking and bus companies.

Protecting Your Interests

Unfortunately, some companies don’t adequately maintain their vehicles as required by law, and they may also pressure workers into unsafe behaviors. The combination of mechanical failure and driver fatigue can have serious consequences, for commercial drivers and for other motorists.

If you’ve been injured in a crash with a commercial vehicle, don’t wait to get help. Call us today for your no-obligation consultation at (931) 962-1044, or request a meeting with us using our online contact form.

Licensed to Practice in Tennessee & Alabama