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1)  What to do after a commercial truck accident?

There are some basic steps you can take after being involved in a tractor trailer or semi-truck collision in or around Georgia:

  • Call 911:  Documenting the collision is important, and emergency responders can provide prompt medical care;

  • Seek Medical Treatment:  Whether in an ER, urgent care, or with your primary care physician, immediate medical care should be a top priority to document your condition and identify all injuries.

  • Preserve Evidence:  In short, this means take pictures of your injuries; pictures of the property damage; and pictures of the scene, if possible and practical. And, avoid posting anything on social media and do not delete any social media posts.

  • Consult with an Attorney:  Call a car accident attorney to discuss the facts of your case.  If nothing else, the attorney may be able to identify potential issues for you to address, individually. 

  • Contact Your Insurance Carrier:  Insurance policies usually have strict notice requirements, so it's important your insurance carriers are notified timely.

In Georgia, a personal injury victim usually has two years from the date of the injury to file the case in Court.  So, it’s important to consult with an truck accident attorney as soon as possible.

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2)  What is a commercial motor vehicle?

Commercial motor vehicles is a broad term that defines a class of vehicles used for a commercial - or business - purpose. 

 

Not all commercial motor vehicles are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations nor do they all require special licensing. 

 

Only those commercial motor vehicles that meet certain weight requirements are subject to special licensing requirements.

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3)  What is a motor carrier?

 

At it's most basic definition, a motor carrier is a person or entity that transports passengers or property for compensation. 

 

Legally, they are recognized as any person or entity who owns, controls, operates, manages, or leases a commercial motor vehicle.

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4)  Who regulates commercial motor vehicles and motor carriers?

 

As an starting point, the United States Department of Transportation develops nationwide regulations through the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration to regulate heavy trucks, like tractor trailers. 

 

These set the minimum standard for regulating motor carriers and their large commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. 

 

The states can adopt these regulations in full.  Alternatively, states can  develop their own, stricter guidelines to regulate heavy trucks on the roadway.

States can exclusively regulated commercial vehicles operating in intrastate commerce.

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5)  What does FMCSA and FMCSR mean?

 

"FMCSA" is an acronym used to identify the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. 

 

In turn, the FMCSA is part of the United States Department of Transportation.  The FMCSA is charged with putting together safety regulations designed to be enforceable against certain classes of commercial motor vehicles. 

 

These regulations are known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, or "FMCSR."

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6)  Who enforces commercial motor vehicle regulations in Georgia?

In Georgia, commercial motor vehicle regulations and statutes are enforced by the Motor Carrier Compliance Division of the Georgia Department of Transportation.

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7)  What is the difference between interstate and intrastate?

Interstate commerce is when goods are being transported across state lines. 

 

When a motor carrier is engaged in intrastate commerce, the goods are being transported solely within one state's boundaries. 

 

The FMCSR regulates all interstate commerce being transported by qualifying commercial motor vehicles.  The states are left to define the regulations for intrastate commerce by qualifying commercial motor vehicles.

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8)  What are some important regulations for commercial motor vehicles?

 

Commercial motor vehicles are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for all interstate commerce.  For commerce within the Georgia's borders, they are further regulated by Georgia statutes.  Some of the most important areas of regulations for a collision case include the following:

Key Regulations

Licensing Regulations


To simply apply for a basic Commercial Driver's License (CDL) is a complex process with stringent requirements:

  • 18 y/o or older;
  • Valid Class C Georgia driver's license;
  • Complete and application;
  • Pass a vision examination;
  • Possess an Instructional Permit for atleast 14 days;
  • Pass written knowledge exams;
  • Pass the Road Skills Test
  • Certify the driving category;
  • Provide a Medical Certification.
Once a basic CDL is obtained, there are even more requirements in order to drive different commercial motor vehicles. In Georgia, these are divided in to three differing classes:
  1. Class A: Truck and trailer with a combined weight exceeding 26,000 lbs. (but with a trailer weight exceeding 10,000 lbs.)
  2. Class B: Single vehicle whose weight alone exceeds 26,000 lbs. (and trailer weighs less than 10,000 lbs.)
  3. Class C: Vechile is designed to transport 16 or more passengers.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. Different requirements and endorsements are required for transporting hazardous material, school buses and children, etc.




Hiring Regulations


Before a motor carrier can hire a licensed commercial motor vehicle driver, they must vet the driver to make sure they are qualified to safely operate commercial vehicles on public roadways. These include:

  • Requiring an application for employment;
  • Inquire in to driving record with prior employers for the previous 3 years;
  • Annually review their driving record;
  • Annually review their driving qualifications and certifications;
  • Obtain a copy of the driver's road test and certificate;
  • Maintain a copy of the driver's medical examiner's certificate




Hours of Service Regulations


Hours of service is the maximum amount of time a commercial driver is allowed to "on duty." This includes driving time. The purpose of these regulations is to ensure that drivers are awake and alert. These regulations were updated on June 1, 2020. Property-Carrying Drivers:

  • 11 Hour Driving Limit: May drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • 14-Hour Limit: May not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.
  • 30-Minute Driving Break: Drivers must take a 30-minute break when they have driven for a period of 8 cumulative hours without at least a 30-minute interruption. The break may be satisfied by any non-driving period of 30 consecutive minutes (i.e., on-duty not driving, off-duty, sleeper berth, or any combination of these taken consecutively).
  • 60/70 Hour Limit: May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
  • Sleeper Berth Provision: Drivers may split their required 10-hour off-duty period, as long as one off-duty period (whether in or out of the sleeper berth) is at least 2 hours long and the other involves at least 7 consecutive hours spent in the sleeper berth. All sleeper berth pairings MUST add up to at least 10 hours. When used together, neither time period counts against the maximum 14- hour driving window.
  • Adverse Driving Conditions: Drivers are allowed to extend the 11-hour maximum driving limit and 14-hour driving window by up to 2 hours when adverse driving conditions are encountered
There are separate hours-of-service requirements for passenger-carrying drivers.




Maintenance, Repair, and Inspection Regulations


There are extensive regulations to make sure that commercial motor vehicles are not only safely maintained and repaired, but periodically inspected. The regulations impose some general guidelines that set the framework. The regulations explicitly require that all parts and accessories to a commercial motor vehicle (CMV's) and trailer be in a safe an proper condition. Drivers are further prohibited from driving CMV's if the vehicles are in a condition to likely cause an accident or a breakdown of the vehicle. In addition to these, the regulations impose specific requirements;

  • all emergency components must be inspected ever 90 days, including pushout windows, emergency doors, and emergency door markings.
  • pre-trip and post-trip inspections by the driver must be conducted with each trip;
  • annual inspections must be performed by a qualified inspector and in accodance with the Minimum Periodic Inspection Standards of as identified by the FMCSR.




Record Retention Regulations


There are various record retention timelines for different items. These record retention regulations are designed to make sure that the motor carriers can undergo an appropriate safety audit if an issue arises. Some record retention regulations may include:

  • Education/Training Materials for Drugs and Alcohol; 2 years
  • Certain Drug and Alcohol Test Records: 5 years
  • Convictions for Driving Violations: 3 years
  • Accident Registers with Accident Reports: 3 years
  • Driver Qualification File: 3 years
  • Hours of Service Records, Generally: 6 months
  • Vehicle Records, if Vehicle is Owned: 1 year
  • Driver Vehicle Inspection Report: 3 months




Weight Limit and Loading Regulations


The weight limits and loading procedures are designed to make sure that heavy loads are evenly and safely balanced. In Georgia, the maximum gross weight on a 5 axle big rig is 80,000 lbs. The weight limit decreases as the number of axles decrease. There are further requirements for the amount of weight that can be placed on each axle. Federal Regulations also impose cargo securement regulations to prevent shifting on or within, or falling from commercial motor vehicles. These regulations aim to reduce the number of commercial motor vehicle accidents caused by cargo shift and coming loose. For, instance and as a general matter, there must be:

  • one tiedown for cargo that is 5ft or less in length and 1,100 lbs or less in weight;
  • two tiedowns for cargo that is 5ft or less in length but more than 1,100 lbs in weight;
  • two tiedowns for cargo that is 5-10ft in length, regardless of weight.
These regulations change for different types of cargo, such as logs, metal coils, paper rolls, concrete pipe, intermodal containers, automobiles, heavy equipment, etc.




Insurance Requirements


Recognizing that commercial motor vehicles impose special dangers on the roadway, all states require varying levels of insurance requirements to protect innocent victims. The insurance requirements change based on the type of goods being trasnported. In Georgia, these requirements are:

  • $750,000 (general freight)
  • $1,000,000 (oil transport)
  • $5,000,000 (hazardous material)
  • $300,000 (household goods)





9)  What steps can be taken to immediately investigate my truck accident and preserve evidence?

 

The steps taken immediately after the collision are important to proving your case. 

First, an accident reconstructionist and/or trucking expert may need to be identified to immediately begin documenting the scene, final resting positions of the vehicles, yaw marks and other road damage, and other physical evidence that may help them reverse engineer the collision.

Second, records are preserved by sending a preservation letter to the driver, his employer, and any other responsible party, directing them not to destroy any information related to the collision, including:

  • Driver Qualification File;

  • Hours of Service Records;

  • Dispatch Records;

  • Maintenance, Repair, and Inspection Records;

  • Black Box Records;

  • Cargo Loading Records;

  • Truck Camera Footage

Next, inspections of the vehicles involved, including the tractor and/or trailer, may need to be performed to inspect the cargo load, conspicuity tape, lights, brakes, and other areas of potential failure.

Finally, investigating the commercial motor carrier their safety record at the time of the collision is important, which is available via the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

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10)  Who can potentially be responsible for my truck accident injuries?

 

There may be various responsible parties in a trucking accident, depending on the cause of the collision.  Potentially responsible parties could include:

  • Truck driver:  Truck drivers are almost always a contributing – if not the main – cause for big rig collisions.  For instance, a fatigued driver who has exceeded their hours of service, broken a rule of the road, or failed to properly inspect their truck and its load can lead to a truck accident;

  • Motor carrier:  Truck drivers almost always operate under a motor carrier’s DOT authority – i.e. Dept. of Transportation authorization to operate 18-wheelers on the roadway.  Truck drivers are often employees for the carrier, and the carrier can also be responsible for vetting, hiring, training, and supervising their drivers and their loads.

  • Cargo shipper and/or loader:  Under certain circumstances, cargo shippers and/or loaders can be held responsible.  For instance, the federal regulations were updated several years ago to provide intermodal equipment providers liability for collisions involving intermodal equipment.  Intermodal equipment providers are often owned or contracted by the cargo shippers.  Improper and imbalanced loads that does not comply with regulations can also contribute to a collision.

  • Truck and/or parts manufacturer:  In rarer scenarios, tractors, trailers, and intermodal equipment manufacturers who design or manufacturer defective equipment can contribute to a roadway collision.

  • Government agencies and/or contractors:  Finally, government agencies who fail to properly enforce trucking regulations or, more likely, negligently design and maintain parts of a roadway can also lead to foreseeable collision involving tractor trailers.

Under Georgia’s direct action statute, the tractor trailer’s insurance carrier is also a named party in any lawsuit as well.  

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11)  What are the different types of commercial motor vehicles?

There are a wide-range of commercial motor vehicles that are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, including:  

  • Tractors and Trailers (i.e. Big Rigs, Semi-Trucks, etc.)

  • Tanker Trucks

  • Flatbed Trucks (i.e. Straight Trucks)

  • Dump Trucks / Garbage Trucks

  • Tow Trucks

  • Delivery Truck / Box Trucks

  • Passenger Buses

  • Cement Mixer

  • Travel Trailers

These vehicles, their weights, and their purposes can determine which regulations apply, as the standards can vary.

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12)  What are common causes of truck accidents?

 

The most common causes of commercial motor vehicle collisions include the following:

  • Driver Fatigue:  overworked drivers, pushed to meet tight deadlines, is most often the cause of trucking collisions;

  • Driver Impairment:  consumption of alcohol or drugs.  Or, they are no longer medically qualified to drive due to a medical impairment (i.e. vision).

  • Violation of the Rules of the Road:  i.e. speeding, improper lane change, failing to yield the right of way, etc.;

  • Inadequate Training or Supervision:  unfamiliarity with the truck, trailer, route, cargo loading, transportation procedures, or changes in safety regulations can often result in collisions;

  • Road Conditions:  poor road conditions due either to weather, road maintenance, or both;

  • Mechanical Failure:  usually, this results from poor maintenance, repair, and inspection of the tractor and/or trailer.

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13)  Who are trucking experts and why are they important?

 

Typically, these experts are former troopers with the Georgia State Patrol's Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team who have experience reconstructing hundreds, if not thousands, of motor vehicle collisions, including commercial motor vehicles.

Knowing which experts to identify - and when - is important to proving your case.  Many times, this means having the expert visit the scene as soon as possible.  The expert uses cutting-edge technology to spot and document important data points that will be important to their analysis.

Incidentally, commercial motor vehicle regulations are enforced by the Georgia State Patrol.  So, these experts are also qualified in providing opinions as to what regulations were violated, and why.

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14)  What are some common terms and lingo used by truck drivers?

 

Tractor trailer drivers and dispatchers have developed their own language over the years. 

 

Being able to speak their language is important to understanding what - or who - the driver is blaming for the collision.  Some common terms include:

  • G.O.A.L. (get out and look before reversing)

  • LTL (less than truckload - small shipments)

  • OTR (over the road)

  • POC (point of contact)

  • POD (point of delivery)

  • Bear (law enforcement officer)

  • Full Grown Bear (state trooper)

  • Chicken Coop (weigh station)

  • Comic Book (driver's log book)

  • Barn Yard (company yard)

  • Back Door (behind the truck)

  • Bobtail (tractor without a trailer)

  • Deadhead (empty trailer)

  • Freight Shaker (freightliner)

  • Skateboard (flatbed trailer)

  • Hazmat (hazardous material)

  • Jackknife (truck turning in on itself)

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15)  Where can I obtain a summary of a motor carrier's safety record?

 

The FMCSA makes motor carrier safety data available via its Safer Web website. 

 

If you know either the motor carrier's DOT Number, MC/MX Number, or legal name, you can get a "Company Snapshot," including a safety rating, out-of-service inspection summary, and crash information.

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16)  What Georgia statutes further regulate commercial motor vehicles?

Georgia's statutes also regulate commercial motor vehicles, in addition to the FMCSR's. 

 

Below are some common statutes that may apply:

  • O.C.G.A. 40-1-103 (Motor Carrier Certification);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-2-114 (Unlawful Operation of a Motor Truck);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-5-145 (Employer Responsibilities for CDL Drivers);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-5-146 (CDL Requirements for Operating Commercial Motor Vehicles);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-5-148 (Nonresident CDL);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-5-448.1 (Restricted CDL in Agricultural Industry);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-5-148.3 (Medical Examiner's Certificate Requirements);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-5-151 (Disqualification/Cancellation of CDL);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-5-152 (Operation of Commercial Motor Vehicle with Alcohol Prohibited);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-5-153 (Implied Consent for Drug and Alcohol Testing);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-5-154 (Nonresident CDL Conviction Notification Requirement);

  • O.C.G.A.  40-8-20 to 35 (Requirements for Lights);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-8-50 to 54 (Requirements for Brakes);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-8-70 (Requirements for Horns);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-8-72 (Requirements for Mirrors);

  • O.C.G.A 40-8-73 (Requirements for Windshield and Windshield Wipers);

  • O.C.G.A. 40-8-74 & 75 (Requirements for Tires and Tire Covers);

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17)  How long do I have to pursue a truck accident claim?

 

In Georgia, the general rule is that you have two years from the date of incident to file a truck accident case in court. 

 

This is known as the statute of of limitations that apply to personal injury cases, and there may be nuances that apply.  So, it's important to consult with an attorney sooner rather than later.

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In Georgia, the general rule is that you have two years from the date of incident to file a truck accident case in court. 

 

This is known as the statute of of limitations that apply to personal injury cases, and there may be nuances that apply.  So, it's important to consult with an attorney sooner rather than later.

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18)  Why is a truck accident attorney important?

 

A commercial truck accident attorney is important because holding the proper person or entity responsible can be complex. 

 

This is because the regulations that apply to commercial motor vehicles are voluminous, nuanced, and can be difficult to understand or apply. 

 

Big businesses in the trucking industry hire defense attorneys who often specialize and focus their practice on defending these claims.  You need an attorney who is also experienced in this area of practice.

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