What Federal and Texas Laws Apply to Semi-Truck Accidents?

Trucks, semi-trucks, 18-wheelers and tractor-trailers have a significant size and weight advantage compared to cars. Accidents involving semi-trucks are generally far more serious than other kinds of accidents.  As a result, many state and federal laws have been enacted to attempt to reduce the number of semi-truck accidents on our highways.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations apply to all commercial motor vehicles engaged in interstate commerce. 49 C.F.R. §§ 350-399. States can impose their own, more rigorous regulations of semi-truck operators, and Texas has done so in some instances. Demonstrating the violation of any of these rules may itself prove breach of a duty of care in a semi-truck accident case. Some of the most important of these regulations follow.

Commercial truck drivers are subject to a number of regulations which allow and sometimes even mandate drug testing. See 49 C.F.R. § 382. Semi-truck drivers must be drug-tested before they begin employment and “as soon as practicable following an accident.” Semi-truck operators must randomly test their drivers throughout their employment. Finally, semi-truck employers are required to test a driver to for drugs and/or alcohol when the employer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver has violated the prohibitions concerning alcohol and/or controlled substances.

With only a few narrow exceptions, any person who operates a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate, foreign, or intrastate commerce must obtain a commercial driver’s license. As part of the CDL process, each person must be demonstrate an understanding of how to safely operate an eighteen wheeler and how fatigue, poor vision, and substance abuse may hamper their ability to avoid semi-truck accidents.  See 49 C.F.R. § 383.

Drivers must be at least 21, competent in the English language, capable of safely operating a semi-truck, and have no serious violations of traffic safety laws. See 49 C.F.R. § 391.

Specific Rules for Driving: All involved with operating commercial motor vehicles must:

  • Obey all traffic laws;
  • Load cargo safely;
  • Periodically inspect the vehicle;
  • Not use illegal drugs;
  • Not drive while sick;
  • Not drive while fatigued;
  • Drive cautiously in hazardous conditions;
  • Follow specific safety rules near railroad tracks; and
  • Not text or use a hand-held mobile telephone while driving. See 49 C.F.R. § 392.

Restrictions on Drivers’ Hours of Service: Federal laws impose rigorous requirements on semi-truck drivers regarding the amount of time they are allowed to drive at any given time. No driver of a property-carrying vehicle may drive or be permitted to drive:

  • More than 11 cumulative hours following 10 consecutive hours off-duty;
  • For any period after the end of the 14th hour after coming on duty following 10 consecutive hours off duty (with certain exceptions);
  • After having been on duty 60 hours in any period of 7 consecutive days or 70 hours in any period of 8 consecutive days;
  • Without taking 34 or more consecutive hours off-duty after the 7 or 8 days of consecutive driving described above. 49 C.F.R. § 395.3.

Federal laws impose more rigorous restrictions on passenger-carrying commercial vehicles. Such drivers are not allowed to drive:

  • More than 10 hours following 8 consecutive hours off duty; or
  • For any period after having been on duty 15 hours following 8 consecutive hours off duty.  49 C.F.R.395.5.

Semi-truck drivers and operators are also required to maintain driver’s logs. Records must include the following information:

  • Date;
  • Total miles driving today;
  • Truck or tractor and trailer number;
  • Name of carrier;
  • Driver’s signature/certification;
  • 24-hour period starting time (e.g. midnight, 9:00 a.m., noon, 3:00 p.m.);
  • Main office address;
  • Remarks;
  • Name of co-driver;
  • Total hours; and
  • Shipping document number(s), or name of shipper and commodity. See 49 C.F.R. 395.8.

Federal law requires that the driver and operator of a semi-truck maintain maintenance records of the semi-truck. 49 C.F.R. § 396.

Texas law and federal regulations of the trucking industry are very complex. This is in no way a comprehensive list of federal or state laws that apply to semi-trucks. Instead, it is intended to provide only a sample of some of the most commonly violated laws involved in semi-truck accident lawsuits. An experienced Texas trucking accident attorney can determine whether the driver or operator involved in a semi-truck accident may have violated one or more of these regulations, helping to establish the existence of negligence if it exists.

About the author: While my office is located in Fort Worth, I am admitted to practice in every state and federal court in Texas, and I am able to handle car accident, semi-truck accident, wrongful death and other personal injury cases in Dallas, Fort Worth, Burleson, Denton, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Houston, Waco, Austin, San Antonio, and across Texas.  For a free evaluation of your legal matter, call me at 817.908.9861 or fill out the contact form.