Tractor-trailer accidents are different from regular car crashes because they involve commercial drivers and commercial vehicles. That matters because truckers and trucking companies are subject to special and more stringent laws than ordinary drivers.
Commercial regulations for Georgia truckers
In Georgia, commercial drivers are required to have special commercial licenses that authorize them to operate vehicles of 26,001 pounds or more. They also have to pass a separate test in order to obtain those licenses, and they need even more credentials to drive hazardous materials, double or triple trailers or tanker trucks.
Commercial licenses are granted by individual states, but they are overseen and regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the federal Department of Transportation that also regulates interstate buses. The FMCSA has special rules that truckers must follow to get and keep their licenses.
Among other things, they must:
- Submit to, and pass, random drug and alcohol testing, and testing after accidents or on reasonable suspicion of intoxication
- Abide by a lower legal limit for drunk driving (0.04 in Georgia)
- Limit their hours of driving in 1 day and 1 workweek, with logs kept to document hours of service
- Avoid certain motor vehicle crimes or infractions
- Maintain good health without disqualifying conditions like epilepsy, insulin-dependent diabetes or serious heart and lung problems
- Notify their employers of any traffic violation (aside from parking)
Breaking a rule has consequences. Drivers can be fined or lose their licenses temporarily for minor violations. For the most serious violations, they can be permanently disqualified or even go to prison.
Drivers are also penalized or disqualified if they take steps to subvert the law. For example, driving after a license suspension or trying to get commercial driver’s licenses from more than one state.
Trucking safety laws in Georgia
Similarly, safety laws also hold trucking companies to higher legal standards than owners of private cars. Trucking companies are required to enforce some of the rules above, such as the random drug and alcohol testing and hours of service logs. They must also abide by the rules for driver eligibility; that is, they may not knowingly employ drivers who are disqualified from driving.
Trucking companies have safety duties of their own. The most important of these is a requirement to maintain the trucks they send out onto the roads in a safe condition. That means trucks must have working brakes, properly inflated tires, the correct lights and reflectors and all other basic equipment.
Trucks must submit to safety inspections periodically to ensure that they are following the rules. As with the drivers, trucking companies can be fined or disqualified from operating in the United States if they violate certain rules. In extreme cases, they can even go to prison.
Consequences of violating safety laws
These laws are intended to prevent serious accidents. Unfortunately, trucking companies can save money by breaking the law, so some of them do or encourage their drivers to do it. In addition to causing regulatory or criminal penalties, violations of trucking laws generally make the trucker, trucking company or both at fault for any accident that results.
That might be cold comfort for victims, but it helps ensure success in any insurance claim or trucking accident lawsuit they may file.