Every trucking company and professional truck driver must be intimately familiar with Part 396 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations. Those regulations provide specific duties and obligations on the part of companies and drivers to make sure that the trucks and trailers are in safe operating condition when on the roadway.
Section 396.3 provides the general duty for a motor carrier to inspect, repair and maintain every motor vehicle in the fleet. Additionally, the trucking company must maintain records showing the inspection and repair and maintenance of its vehicles.
An integral part of the maintenance and repair obligations on the part of the trucking company involved the driver’s vehicle inspection reports. Section 396.11 indicates that every trucking company must require its drivers to report in writing the condition of the vehicle at the end of each day. This section is one that is vital to the ongoing safety efforts on both the trucking company and the driver.
The driver’s daily vehicle inspection reports provide feedback to the company when a truck driver notices a problem or believes there may be maintenance necessary. It is the motor carrier’s responsibility to ensure that any item mentioned by the truck driver in the report is addressed and is not a safety item.
The motor carrier shall not permit a vehicle to be driven on the highway if it is in a dangerous condition also known as “out of service”.
Many truck wrecks involve maintenance issues that could have been or should have been addressed by a motor carrier and may have prevented the accident itself. Because semi trucks are articulated vehicles the brakes are particularly important and often require maintenance.
It is no secret that a semi truck takes approximately 1/3 longer to come to a complete stop at highway speeds than does a passenger car or pickup truck. After a very serious crash, investigators usually analyze the brakes and their effectiveness when braking was an issue in the accident.
In fact, the federal regulations require specific qualifications of the people charged with the responsibility for inspecting the brakes of a commercial motor vehicle. Section 396.25 provides the qualifications of inspectors looking at the brakes of a big rig.
In many semi-truck wrecks, the condition of the vehicle itself is a very important piece of evidence in an injury accident or fatal crash. It is important that victims and their family take steps as quickly as possible after crash to have qualified experts inspect the semi-truck and trailer prior to the same being put back into service or repaired. Unfortunately, many insurance carriers for trucking companies have developed a practice of pushing to put the truck back in service as quickly as possible, thus depriving a victim or their family the opportunity to gather important evidence that may be adverse to the trucking company or the driver.