Truck driver

Truck Accident Litigation | Driver Responsibilities and Duties

Commercial Truck Driver Responsibilities

It may seem too obvious to say that the most important person for injury claims and litigation for truck accidents is the driver of the truck, but the relevance of the statement becomes clearer when we consider the breadth and depth truck driver responsibilities.

Truckers are highly skilled professionals who are tasked with the safe operation of massive vehicles that can present obvious dangers to others on our roads if not used properly. This is the reason why the laws require specialized training and licensing for truck drivers. And a review of truck driver responsibilities and whether they were met in a particular truck accident situation are key points of investigation for an experienced personal injury attorney.

Truck Driver Responsibilities

Although not all large truck accidents are caused by truck drivers – liability may lie instead or additionally with the commercial trucking company that employed the driver, those who maintained and prepared the truck and his load, or even to other drivers on the road – Considering the driver’s duties and whether they were performed in the particular incident is an important place to start the injury claim investigation. The formal responsibilities of truck drivers are set forth in federal law and state law, as well as in the policies and procedures of the trucking company that employs the driver. Truck driver duties fall into several categories, including:

  • Training and license
  • Inspection and use of the truck
  • Keep records and make reports
  • Become familiar with the truck and equipment

Examining each of these categories of truck driver duties and determining if a driver’s actions were lacking is a key part of investigating and developing a claim for injuries resulting from a truck accident.

Training and driver’s license

A truck driver applying for a job with a motor carrier has an obligation to present proof of his qualifications to the prospective employer (and the employer has an obligation to verify them). Qualifications are generally set forth in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, along with any additional qualifications required by the state that issued the driver’s commercial vehicle license. Physical examination and drug test reports required by the Department of Transportation must be included in the application and driver’s record, along with the commercial driver’s license itself.

The truck driver is also responsible for providing proof of his familiarity with the particular vehicle(s) the employer expects him to drive, as well as his work history and experience. Previous accidents, citations, legal or regulatory violations and/or convictions must be disclosed by the driver and documented by the employer.

Finally, the driver must demonstrate familiarity with the federal regulations applicable to the particular job, and the prospective employer must verify that the driver has the required skills by completing a formal road test.

Inspection and use of the truck

A trucker’s job involves much more than just driving a truck. Federal regulations require that they inspect their truck before and after their trips and identify any mechanical problems or other safety issues they discover. They are required to report what they find and not drive a truck with unresolved safety issues. For the trip itself, the driver should plan a route that safely takes into account things like low overpasses that won’t accommodate the height of the truck and trailer, roads that may be too narrow, steep or winding roads to be driven safely, and local roads from which trucks have been banned.

The trucker’s travel plan must also take into account the longer breaks and stops required by the strict limitations on hours of service designed to protect against driver fatigue and the dangers it presents. If necessary, other stops for refueling, meals, etc., must also be planned by the driver. Although truck drivers do not typically load their trucks, they are responsible for inspecting and verifying that loads have been properly placed and secured so that the vehicle remains properly balanced for safe operation and loads cannot shift and move as the truck stops, starts and turns. Of course, the truck driver is responsible for the safe and proper use of the truck and trailer. In addition to traffic and safety laws that apply to all drivers on the road, truck drivers must also know and follow federal regulations and state laws specifically for trucks regarding things like:

  • Level crossings.
  • Road restrictions or closures due to weather conditions.
  • Transportation of hazardous materials.
  • Use of appropriate visibility markers – turn signals, flares and other warning devices – after emergencies such as accidents or mechanical breakdowns.

More importantly, truckers have a duty to monitor their own physical and mental state and not operate their vehicle when sick, intoxicated, or too tired to drive safely.

Keep records, maintain truck driver hours log and report

In addition to presenting their qualifications, licenses, and work and driving history to their employers, truckers also have an obligation to record and report on many of the items described above. They must keep a record of their driving hours and report it to their employer. They should keep a copy of this log with them for the previous week’s driving time whenever they are on the road. Truckers must keep and maintain the required documents for their vehicle and current load to present at inspection stations. They must provide copies of their pre- and post-trip inspection reports to their employer so that tractors or trailers with mechanical or other safety issues can be taken out of service until the issues are resolved.

Many trucking companies will also have policies and procedures requiring record keeping beyond what may be required by federal and state regulations. Truckers are required to maintain and report these records as required by their employers, as well as follow employer reporting requirements when incidents such as accidents, mechanical issues, load issues, or other unusual problems arise.

Familiarity with truck and equipment

Many truckers will start their career by attending a truck driving school. These schools will teach prospective drivers the basics of operating their equipment, doing so safely, and meeting federal and state requirements for commercial licensing. Although these schools cover the standard requirements for truck driving, inspections and reporting, adhering to driving time rules, etc., they do not provide specialized training on every type of truck, tractor or truck. trailer that drivers may drive during their careers.

It is the responsibility of the truck driver to become familiar with these individual pieces of equipment and the responsibility of his employer to verify that drivers have done so. A box truck is very different from a tractor-trailer, and neither is like a garbage truck. Even within a particular class of truck, the controls the driver is expected to use safely can be very different between two trucks that appear visually identical from the outside.

It is the truck driver’s duty to acquire knowledge and experience of the specific vehicles and equipment that his employer expects him to drive, and the employer has an obligation to verify that this has been done.

Relevance to Personal Injury Claims and Litigation

When an experienced personal injury attorney begins investigating a truck accident for a client, the truck driver involved in the accident is at the center of the investigation. Was the driver properly trained, qualified and authorized? Did the driver inspect and drive the truck safely during the trip? Did the driver document and report both routine items and noted issues related to the truck or himself? Did the driver have proper knowledge of the truck, trailer and other equipment he was driving on the day of the accident? If the answer to any of these questions is “No”, they can point directly to liability for the bodily injury that has been caused and the need for further and more detailed investigation.

Watch this video that outlines the complex rules and reporting requirements for truck driver “hours of service” designed to keep overtired truck drivers off the road:

California Truck Accident Lawyers in Sacramento

Hello, my name is Ed Smith and I am a California truck accident attorney in Sacramento. An experienced personal injury attorney will understand that it is crucial to investigate a truck driver’s training, driving history, and employment history that may have caused a truck accident and injuries. If you or a member of your family has been injured in a truck accident, please contact us today at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice. You can also reach us via our online contact form.

We are proud members of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

You can read our customer reviews on Google, Yelp and Avvo and the case histories of our past truck accident verdicts and settlements.

Image by Monika Neumann from Pixabay.

GM [cs  1507] pc