Trucking Companies Are Responsible for their Employees
Federal Trucking Regulations Place Certain Obligations on Trucking Companies to be Responsible for their Employees
Trucking is a massive industry, going literally coast-to-coast through the United States. Trucking in New Mexico is also a very large business, particularly on interstates I-10, I-25, and I-40. Many large trucking companies work just west in Ontario, California and send big rigs right through New Mexico to the rest of the United States.
Because of the nature of trucking through many states, all with somewhat different state laws, there is a uniform set of federal regulations which set the minimum standards that trucking companies and truck drivers must comply with. These are known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR), and trucking companies and truck drivers must comply with these regulations no matter what state they are in. They may also have to comply with the applicable state or locals laws, which may be stricter than the federal regulations, but the FMCSR is the minimum requirements which must be met.
FMCSR Places Obligations on Trucking Companies and Employers
The FMCSR will places several obligations on trucking companies. These obligations are centered around qualifications and safety. These mirror the common law (or judge-made law) regarding negligent supervision and negligent entrustment that New Mexico has which apply in big rig and box truck wrecks. Generally, these hold an employer liable for the acts of their employees through respondeat superior. But these legal principles also hold an employer directly liable for negligently hiring and employer or negligently entrusting an employee who is not qualified with a dangerous instrument, such as a big rig, box truck, or 18 wheeler.
While the common law sets forth judges’ decisions to follow, the FMCSR takes a step further and creates crystal-clear obligations on employers and trucking companies. The violation of these regulations which result in a New Mexico trucking wreck can be evidence of negligence against both the truck driver and the trucking company. These regulations are largely against the trucking company, and for good reason because the trucking company is in the best position to protect the public.
Sections of the FMCSR Holding Trucking Companies Responsible as Employers of Truck Drivers
Some of the applicable sections help a victim of a trucking crash hold the truck driver and trucking company responsible. These sections include the following:
Section 390.3(e) of the FMCSRs states that:
Every employer must be knowledgeable of and comply with all regulations contained in the FMCSRs that are applicable to that motor carrier’s operations, as follows:
- Every driver and employee must be instructed regarding, and must comply with, all applicable regulations contained in the FMCSR;
- All motor vehicle equipment and accessories required by the FMCSRs must be maintained in compliance with all applicable performance and design criteria set forth in the FMCSR
- A motor carrier must work toward meeting these requirements by having a comprehensive training program that meets the criteria of Section 390.3(e).
Some of these training program criteria include:
A driver must receive instruction in the following four areas:
- Driver qualification requirements (Part 391). Requires medical examination procedures and medical certification. It should also address general driver qualifications, responsibilities, and disqualifications;
- Hours of service (Part 395). Requires instruction in the basic limits (driving, on duty, and off duty), record of duty status (log) preparation, exceptions to the requirements, and fatigue countermeasures as a means to avoid crashes;
- Driver wellness. Requires instruction on basic health maintenance, including diet and exercise, alcohol and drug use and abuse, and stress management; and
- Whistleblower protection (29 CFR 1978). Requires instruction on the right of an employee to question the safety practices of an employer without risk of losing his/her job or being subject to reprisals for stating a safety concern.
Drug and alcohol:
Section 382.601 of the FMCSR requires that a motor carrier provide educational materials to its drivers that explain the Part 382 drug and alcohol testing requirements. These materials address many issues, including who is subject to the drug and alcohol regulations, specific information on driver conduct that is prohibited, the procedures used to test, and the consequences of a failed alcohol test, positive drug test, and refusal to test.
Not only must the trucking company advise the truck driver and employers of these, the motor carrier must also provide its drivers with its policies and procedures that address meeting these requirements. This training/education of each driver must be completed prior to the driver’s driving of a commercial vehicle for the employer.
Each driver is required to sign a statement certifying that he/she received a copy of the materials from the motor carrier. The original of the certificate must be maintained by the motor carrier and a copy should be provided to the driver.
Double or Triple Trailer Requirements:
The longer the trailer, the more unsteady it will become. This means the more dangerous that the trailer may be. A driver who wants to operate longer combination vehicles such as doubles or triples must successfully complete an LCV driver training program. The training must include instruction in general categories, including safe operating practices, as well as behind-the-wheel instruction. A driver who meets all of the training requirements will be issued a training certificate indicating that he/she is qualified to operate LCVs.
In addition to these specific training issues, Section 390.3(e) of the FMCSRs states that drivers and employees must be instructed in and comply with the regulations. When it comes to “other training,” general topics include driver orientation, the regulations, driving skills, and workplace safety.
Failing to Train Drivers in New Mexico: Deadly Consequences for the Public
Failing to train a driver can have consequences, including crashes resulting in severe injuries and death. Civil penalties (fines) can also be assessed based on limits stated in the regulations and consideration of information available at the time the claim is made. This information includes history of prior offenses, degree of culpability, and other matters as justice or public safety may require. Trucking companies and truck drivers that fail to comply may be liable in civil personal injury lawsuits to victims you are seriously injured or wrongfully killed.
Proof of training by a motor carrier is very important. Having a training program may not absolve a motor carrier of all fines and penalties, but it can help minimize their severity.
Trucking Companies Must Train Truck Drivers on the Regulations
Though not required on a specific topic-by-topic basis, regulatory training should be an important aspect of every safety and training program. When an enforcement officer is performing an investigation or audit, he/she is looking at a motor carrier’s and driver’s compliance with the regulations. If a driver doesn’t understand the regulations, how can he/she comply with the regulations?
Also, how can a carrier prove it is striving for compliance without providing this type of training?
Hours of service, vehicle inspection, and cargo securement are just some of the regulatory topics that should be addressed on a regular basis.
Trucking Companies Must Periodically Test Their Truck Drivers per the FMCSR
All drivers can benefit from a review of driving skills. Over time, poor driving habits or incorrect skills can develop, causing a greater risk for accidents, incidents, and near misses. A review of driving techniques, such as backing procedures and turning, as well as procedural issues, such as driving in adverse weather conditions and operating at night, are examples of topics that should be addressed by the motor carrier on a regular basis.
So why should driver training be a component of a motor carrier’s safety program?
First is the issue of regulatory compliance. There are specific requirements that must be met addressing entry-level driver training, alcohol and drug training for drivers, and LCV training (if applicable). Second is the general provisions (as listed in Sec. 390.3[e]) that apply to all of the FMCSR’s. Providing instruction to drivers enables them, whether behind the wheel or in a workplace, to follow safe practices, which in turn contribute to a safe and productive work environment.
Injured by a Truck Driver’s Mistake? The FMCSR May Have Been Violated, and the Trucking Company May Ultimately be Responsible
Victims who have been injured in a trucking crash anywhere in New Mexico should know that the real party who may be liable to them may not just be the truck driver holding the keys. Employers like trucking companies are responsible for their drivers, and for ensure the regulations are followed by their drivers and understood by their drivers.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a trucking accident, call the experienced New Mexico trucking accident attorneys at the Caruso Law Offices, P.C. today by dialing (505) 883-5000 You can also contact us on our website through the easy to use and convenient Contact box located by clicking here.