Tractor Trailer Operators Face Increased Liability Under Hazardous Conditions

August 29, 2018

Large “18 Wheeler” vehicles that transport goods on our roads are under increased scrutiny and rules that passenger vehicles are not. A vehicle may be classed as a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) if it has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) over 26,000 pounds (11,794 kilograms) – some exceptions apply (see; FMCSA 383.5).

If you have an accident with a commercial vehicle such as a truck or large transport, your attorney should be aware that § 392.14 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) requires extreme caution in weather conditions involving snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, or any environmental hazard that adversely affects visibility or traction. The FMCSRs establishes the base regulations and states either adopt or enhance the regs. For instance; if your car spun out of control and was hit by the truck following it, and this occurred during inclement weather, the driver of the commercial vehicle may be cited as causing the accident if they did not slow their vehicle to a crawl. A truck has a higher center of gravity, can weigh up to 99,000 pounds and in normal weather due to immutable laws of physics is harder to stop even without hazardous conditions (see; tswprovisions).

The responsibility for safety is on the tractor trailer operator to be proactive and prevent the massive injury and loss of life that their vehicles are capable of. The rules are intentionally vague, and the discretion for operating the vehicle is left up to the driver. The Surface Transportation Assistance Act (known as the STAA) prohibits an employer from disciplining or firing a commercial driver because that driver refuses to drive a commercial motor vehicle on the highways in violation of Federal safety regulations. The STAA also prohibits an employer from disciplining or firing a commercial driver because that driver refuses to operate a commercial vehicle when he has a “reasonable apprehension” of serious injury to himself or the public because of the vehicle’s unsafe condition. However, there are situations where drivers have been fired or reprimanded for choosing not to drive vehicles. The reality is, the pressures of the job can result in truck drivers making choices that are not always in the interest of safety (see;

Establishing liability requires proving what is reasonable. Investigations into the standards of the truck driver and/or agency that employs them are crucial to prove whether their standards of maintenance and adherence to safety protocols may have contributed to an accident.

DISCLAIMER: The information herein is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. For any legal matters, we urge you to take the advice of an attorney familiar with your case.