Commercial Motor Vehicle Overview

In August 2015, a South Carolina commercial truck driver was sentenced to nine years in prison on a charge of reckless vehicular homicide. Police who investigated the crash in January 2013 said the driver was traveling too fast for road conditions when he slammed into several cars stopped in traffic on Interstate 526. Witnesses told police that after the crash the driver was throwing beer cans out of his truck.

Two months after that crash, the same man – out of jail on $100,000 bail – was arrested in Georgia for driving under the influence of alcohol and had a blood alcohol content of .222 percent – nearly three times the legal limit. Investigators later learned he falsified an employment application, neglecting to mention the January crash to the trucking company that hired him.

Truck CrashWhile this case is an extreme example of driver negligence, it’s not the only instance of a trucker engaging in unsafe driving. South Carolina police have cited several commercial truckers in recent crashes for violations that include speeding, traveling too fast for road conditions, and driving while fatigued.

A number of factors may contribute to a commercial truck vehicle crash, including poor maintenance, driver error, driver health problems, and company policies that force drivers to work longer than they should. If you’ve been injured in a crash with a commercial vehicle, the parties responsible for your injuries should be held accountable.

Call the Louthian Law Firm today to find out if you have a case: (803) 454-1200.

Commercial Vehicle Laws

The Federal Motor Carrier Association defines a “commercial motor vehicle” as any self-propelled or towed vehicle transporting passengers or commercial property that:

  • Has a maximum recommended full-load weight of 10,000 pounds or more; or for vehicles hauling trailers/other vehicles, a maximum combined weight of 10,000 pounds or more; or
  • Is designed or used to transport more than eight passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
  • Is used in transporting hazardous material in a quantity that requires a placard on the vehicle describing the contents.

Drivers of commercial motor vehicles – from passenger vans to tractor-trailers – are required to follow federal Hours of Service laws. HOS laws limit driving time and mandate rest breaks, to ensure drivers don’t endanger themselves and others due to driving while fatigued. However, some drivers and trucking firms disregard those laws in an effort to earn more money.

Types of Violations

Each year, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance conducts a three-day safety enforcement called International Roadcheck, in which inspectors examine thousands of trucks and buses. In 2015, inspectors examined 69,472 trucks, 44,989 of which received a Level 1 inspection, the most thorough review of a truck and its driver. Out-of-service (OOS) violations, which are issued when a truck or driver should not be on the road, were the lowest since the CVSA began collecting data in 1991.

Inspectors found:

  • 21.6 percent of Level-1-inspected trucks were placed OOS for problems with components, including brakes, tires/wheels, and safe loads
  • 1,623 (3.6 percent) of Level-1-inspected drivers and 4.8 percent of all drivers were placed OOS, primarily for violating HOS laws and falsifying logs

When police investigate commercial vehicle crashes, they examine drive-time logs to determine if an HOS violation has occurred. When they discover a violation, they sometimes find that the driver’s employer has a problematic safety record.

In Jan. 2015, South Carolina police charged a tractor-trailer driver who crashed into a ditch and spilled 150 gallons of fuel with driving while fatigued and driving too fast for road conditions. Georgia TV station WALB reported that the petroleum company the driver worked for had several safety violations between January 2013 and December 2014, including 19 crashes, two of which caused fatalities; 24 unsafe driving violations; four driver fitness violations; 20 hazardous material violations; and 198 vehicle maintenance violations.

Driver Health and Safety

A recent survey of 3,500 administrators in the trucking industry found that 21 percent of drivers have left the profession because of health problems. These problems are brought on by the conditions of the job – a lack of quality sleep, inadequate exercise and poor nutrition. The survey revealed that 59 percent of administrators say finding and retaining drivers is the biggest challenge in their industry.

The turnover rate in commercial trucking was 90 percent or higher for four years, but dropped to 84 percent in 2015. That means trucking companies are replacing most of their drivers every year, and that turnover has been linked to a higher risk of crashes.

The FMCSA examined how job changes over a two-year period affect crash rates and found that a commercial vehicle driver who worked for two or more different companies in that timeframe was more likely to be involved in a crash. Drivers who averaged three or more different employers in a single year, for at least two years, were twice as likely to crash than those with a steadier employment history.

Help for Victims

Unfortunately, some commercial vehicle drivers that cause crashes are themselves victims of unscrupulous and demanding employers that care little about their drivers’ health and safety.

If you’ve been injured in a crash with a commercial vehicle, you may be entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering. Ask for your free consultation today, by calling us at (803) 454-1200, or completing our online contact form.