The federal government that was established through the U.S. Constitution can only act and regulate things when the Constitution expressly allows it to. This is why our government is called one of limited power – by only saying when it can act, as opposed to only saying when it cannot – the Constitution severely limits when it can do anything, leaving much more freedom to the states to do what they want.
With that said, one of the things that the U.S. Constitution expressly allows the federal government to regulate is interstate commerce or business transactions that cross state lines. While this generally means that the federal government can reach nearly all trucking issues, the tiny size of the District of Columbia means that it has the practical effect of reaching everything. As a result, many of the federal trucking regulations that have been passed to ensure driver safety apply to our roads and highways.
Federal Trucking Regulation in Washington, D.C.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the federal agency that is responsible for making sure that regulations, laws, and other rules are passed which, at least in theory, strike the balance between business interests of trucking companies, on the one hand, and the safety of other drivers and the well-being of trucking workers, on the other. This task is not a small one, as the FMCSA has the power to issue legally-binding regulations that have a dramatic impact on how safe trucking is done throughout the United States and in the District of Columbia.
As a whole, these regulations are found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations and cover nearly every aspect of truck driving imaginable. Here are some of the most important provisions.
Hours of Service Regulations
One of the most controversial aspects of trucking that the FMCSA has had to deal with is how hard trucking companies can push their drivers. If trucking companies are allowed free rein to force their drivers to stay on the road for obscene amounts of time, the cargo that they are carrying would get delivered much quicker than it would if truckers were entitled to breaks. However, this would litter the roads with tired truckers, causing truck accidents and severely injuring innocent drivers who share the roads with them.
The FMCSA's hours of service regulation, embodied in 49 C.F.R. § 395, aims to strike a balance between these interests by prohibiting truck drivers from being on the road for more than a set number of hours at a time. Backed by studies that show that truckers are much more likely to cause a truck accident if they are behind the wheel for a long period of time without a break, the FMCSA's hours of service regulation keeps truckers from driving more than 8 hours without taking at least one 30-minute break. The regulation also prohibits truckers from going more than 11 hours after any 10 straight off-duty hours, and from spending more than 60 hours on-duty in a week.
Unfortunately, these hours of service regulations rely on truckers and trucking companies to report their own hours in log books or electronically. Because these regulations cut into the potential earnings of many truckers and into the profit of trucking companies, these log books are often falsified. This means that truckers who are too tired to drive are often still on the road in D.C., despite the hours of service regulations.
Alcohol and Drug Regulations
Truck accidents are far more severe than a crash between normal passenger vehicles, in large part because of how much larger tractor trailers are than a normal car. To help prevent these from happening, the FMCSA has issued numerous regulations dealing with alcohol and drugs in the trucking context. These regulations take up an entire section of Title 49, 49 C.F.R. § 382, and deal with the lower blood alcohol content (BAC) limit that truckers need to abide by, how they can be found guilty of operating under the influence (OUI), and the increased penalties that they can face, if convicted. These penalties include hefty fines and, perhaps more importantly for truckers who rely on their commercial drivers' licenses to make an income, license suspensions that are far more severe than what normal drivers can face after an OUI conviction.
The regulations in this section also include things like how truckers are to be screened for drugs both before and after they have been hired.
Commercial Drivers' License Regulations
The FMCSA's regulations also handle how truckers can get their commercial drivers' licenses to drive a truck. These issues are handled in 49 C.F.R. § 383, which lays out the minimum requirements that potential truckers need to meet before obtaining their license to drive a specific kind of truck. These requirements involve knowledge and skill tests, which change depending on what kind of license is being pursued. Additionally, the regulations also handle how drivers can lose their commercial drivers' licenses, and what they need to do in order to get them reinstated.
While each state's department of motor vehicles is responsible for handing out licenses to their state residents, these federal regulations must be met in order for truckers to get their license to drive.
Washington, D.C. Truck Accident Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian
The legal protections offered by the federal regulations in Title 49 are some of the most important ways you are kept safe while on the roads in the District of Columbia. They prohibit truckers and trucking companies from focusing on profits at the expense of your safety. However, because they can be seen as an inconvenience by both truckers and their employers, they are not always followed.
If you or someone you love has been hurt in a truck accident in Washington, D.C., there is a significant chance that the ones who were ultimately responsible for your injuries were violating federal trucking regulations. When this happens, you should be compensated for your losses. Contact the personal injury attorneys at the law office of Gilman & Bedigian by calling us at (800) 529-6162 or by contacting us online for a free consultation.