They are one of the most vital parts of our nation’s economy, those monstrous big rig trucks you see on the highway all day and night. The drivers work long hours, pushing their machines thousands of miles to make deliveries on time. The life of an 18-wheeler driver is not for everyone. It takes a special kind of person who has the skills to pilot an 80,000 lb. truck through city traffic, along rural highways, and over the nation’s interstate freeways.
The laws in Pennsylvania require truck drivers to undergo special training and licensing. Even a minor collision can be cause for a truck driver to lose their operating license. Truck drivers are trained to avoid situations where accidents are likely to happen. Nevertheless, accidents with tractor trailers happen everyday. Drivers who are injured in an accident caused by an 18-wheeler need to handle their claim carefully. Laws vary for commercial truck drivers, and cases that might be a slam-dunk to win between private citizens are much more difficult when facing off against a commercial trucking company.
Federal and State Laws that Prevent Big-Rig Accidents
Like many professions, truck drivers are required to meet specific licensing prior to being permitted to drive. Some of these laws are established at the Federal level. Because many truck drivers haul cargo from one state to another, or even across multiple states, the United States Department of Transportation has established requirements for all commercial truck drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provides guidance to the States as to the requirements truck drivers must meet to be licensed.
• Federal Requirements
Federal requirements for special licensing began in 1992 in the United States. Today, any driver that operates commercially and drives a heavy truck is required to earn and keep a Commercial Driver’s License. This license differs from a regular license in many ways. Drivers must take classes and demonstrate knowledge of skills required for driving commercial vehicles. The tests include backing, parking, turning, and merging into traffic much like a regular license, but the driver must complete the test in an 18-wheeler.
Before a driver is allowed on the road, they must also receive certifications for special handling of materials and loads. Driver’s must have certification to operate a truck with air brakes, for example, before they are allowed to drive a truck equipped with air brakes. Many types of loads require special licensing, such as hazardous materials, multiple trailers, and storage tanks.
• Pennsylvania Laws
Federal regulations provide guidance to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, but it is PennDOT that is responsible for licensing truck drivers who live in Pennsylvania. Drivers are not allowed to hold licenses in more than one state. Pennsylvania sets requirements for skills, physical requirements, and is responsible for regulating drivers in the state. Commercial truck drivers who do not meet requirements under Pennsylvania law cannot meet requirements under Federal law. Violations, suspensions, and revocation of licenses in Pennsylvania is reported to Federal authorities and prevents drivers from simply moving to another state to avoid repercussions.
• 14-Hour Window Rule
Pennsylvania is responsible for ensuring drivers are not allowed or forced to drive beyond the limit that has been determined as safe. Federal restrictions are commonly referred to as the “14-Hour Window.” DOT rules allow drivers to operate up to 11 hours within a consecutive 14-hour period.
• 60/7 or 70/8 Rule
In addition to daily limits on driving, truck drivers are also limited by the number of hours they may drive over the course of several days. Drivers working for companies that do not operate every day are restricted to 60 driving hours in 7 days. Company drivers that do operate all week must restrict drivers to no more than 70 driving hours in 8 days. Drivers can do other work, but cannot drive a commercial vehicle.
• 34-Hour Reset
Drivers may take 34 hours or more away from driving and reset the 60/7 or 70/8 rule. Drivers are allowed to utilize sleeper cabs for all or part of this time, but they must be off the road for 34 hours. Drivers can do other work while waiting out the reset.
Accidents Involving Big Rig Trucks
Car accidents are always stressful experiences. Even a minor collision can cause long-lasting injuries and be costly to recover from. Accidents involving commercial trucks amplify the danger. A fully-loaded commercial 18-wheeler tips the scales at up to 80,000 lbs. The average SUV on the road today weighs around 4,800 lbs. There simply is no such thing as a minor accident involving a big rig. The sheer mass of the commercial vehicle means that an unbelievable amount of damage is done. In fact, 18-wheelers are so heavy, sometimes the driver does not even know an accident happened because they cannot feel the impact.
Commercial Truck Accidents That Aren’t Your Fault
Truck drivers have special licensing and education for a reason: the vehicles they are responsible for driving can kill, maim, and injure people even when involved in minor accidents. Commercial drivers have strict rules in place to prevent accidents. When accidents happen that involve a big rig and it’s not your fault, you will need to know how to proceed getting the medical help and money for property damage and lost time.
Commercial Driver Negligence
The laws established by the FMCSA and PennDOT help to ensure public safety and hold truck drivers and the company that owns the truck accountable for causing accidents. Commercial drivers who have exceeded the hours limits, have been drinking or using drugs, are speeding, or are operating over the weight limit and are involved in an accident can be held liable for the damages and injuries they caused. In law, this is referred to as negligence per se. In other words, the driver knew or should have known they were violating the law prior to being involved in an accident.
Negligence against a commercial driver can be established if you can demonstrate the driver violated the rules of the road, or if the driver was in violation of special laws that restrict commercial truckers. Some claims may involve multiple violations at different levels. For example, a driver who operates for more than 11 hours in a 14 hour period is in violation. But, if the company the driver works for forced or required the driver to violate the law, the company can be held liable along with the driver.
Right-Hand Turns and Comparative Negligence
Every driver on the road has seen the warnings plastered across the rear of commercial trailers. Signs like “If You Can’t See My Mirrors, I Can’t See You” and “Caution, Wide Right Turns” are intended to warn drivers of the inherent danger of entering a blind spot. When a tractor trailer makes a right-hand turn, the driver must start out moving to the left, then swing to the right. When the road is narrow, the back of the trailer can eliminate any space between the truck and the side of the road. This is a common way accidents involving commercial trucks happen in Pennsylvania.
Winning an injury case involving a truck hat made a right-hand turn can be among the most difficult. Often, the attorneys representing the trucking company will argue the injured driver is partly or entirely at fault for the accident. This is called Comparative Negligence. In Pennsylvania, if you are found to be 50% or more at fault for an accident involving a commercial truck, you cannot recover damages.
Accidents involving trucks making right-hand turns are very common in Philadelphia. Many drivers think they have a right to the road and do not understand the complexities of maneuvering a large truck on crowded city streets. You should never drive into the blind-spot of an 18-wheeler making a right turn. Truck drivers call this space “The Kill Zone” because of the number of deaths that happen every year to unsuspecting drivers not aware of a big rig’s turning limitations.
Getting Help With Your Semi Accident Claim
If you or a loved one have been involved in an accident with a commercial truck, our attorneys are here to help. Even if you think the accident might have been partially or entirely your fault, you should reach out to us immediately. We provide a free consultation specifically to discuss the facts of your case. Don’t assume it is your fault, or that you don’t have a case. Contact our personal injury lawyers today. Our extensive experience winning car accident claims caused by commercial drivers ensures you and your family will get the settlement you deserve without the stress of handling your case alone.
The nuanced laws in Pennsylvania can substantially impact the manner in which your case is handled. No-fault insurance policies can limit the money you are able to recover, and the specific rules restricting commercial drivers often means you have rights you might not know about. Our truck accident lawyers have decades of experience winning cases against trucking companies. We will get you and your family the medical help and financial security you deserve after being hurt in an accident with an 18-wheeler that wasn’t your fault.