Despite what a lot of people say about the federal government, it cannot regulate everything under the sun. Instead, the U.S. Constitution makes the federal government one of limited powers, and only allows it to act when the Constitution explicitly says that it can.
However, one of the things that the Constitution allows the federal government to regulate is interstate commerce, or any kind of business that crosses state lines, including going into or out of the state of Pennsylvania. This means the federal government can issue regulations that are legally binding on truckers and the trucking industry in order to ensure other drivers on the highways of Philadelphia are kept safe from dangerous driving practices.
Federal Trucking Regulations in Philadelphia
The agency that is behind the trucking regulations issued by the federal government is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). They are responsible for issuing the regulations that are necessary to strike a balance between allowing businesses to operate while still ensuring they do not put people at unnecessary risk. Additionally, the FMCSA is responsible for conducting studies and performing the research that is necessary for these regulations. This puts the FMCSA in a powerful position: They can bend to the will of business interests and allow them to operate without regard to other drivers or their own employees, or they can focus on enforcing the rights and pursuing the interests of the public and a trucking company's employees.
The regulations that aim to strike a balance in these two conflicting interests are found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Here are some of Title 49's most prominent regulations.
Hours of Service
Out of all of the regulations in Title 49, one of the most controversial deals with a truck driver's hours of service. By dictating how much a truck driver can be behind the wheel of their big rig, these hours of service regulations put a limit on how much money a truck driver can make and how quickly a trucking company can deliver goods, but also keeps tired truck drivers off the road, preventing truck accidents that could hurt innocent drivers they share the highways with.
The FMCSA's house of service regulation is found at 49 C.F.R. § 395, and tries to prevent trucking companies from pushing their drivers to the limit of exhaustion and increasing the risk of a truck accident. Backed by the FMCSA's own studies that found that truck drivers who had been behind the wheel of a truck for numerous hours in a row were much more likely to cause a truck accident, the FMCSA's hours of service regulation prohibits truckers from driving more than 8 hours without at least one half-hour break. The regulation also prohibits truck drivers from spending more than 60 hours on-duty in a week, and prohibits them from driving for more than 11 hours after any 10 straight hours spent off-duty.
While these regulations sound like a great way to ensure that truck drivers are not so tired or fatigued that they are more likely to cause a truck crash, the reality is that the FMCSA's ability to enforce these regulations is limited, and rely heavily on self-reported hours. Because truckers want to increase their income and trucking companies want to maximize their profits, they both have financial incentives to under report the hours they spend on the road, leaving tired truckers driving on the highways of Philadelphia.
Commercial Drivers' Licenses
Less controversially, the federal regulations in Title 49 include minimum requirements for a driver to become a commercial trucker. 49 C.F.R. § 383 lays out these minimums and sets the basic structure that states need to use in order to test people who want to become commercial drivers. These minimums include knowledge and skill tests that potential commercial drivers need to overcome, and depend on the kinds of commercial drivers' license being pursued. The regulations also deal with how commercial drivers can lose their license for violations and how they can get them reinstated.
Alcohol and Drugs
Because truck accidents are far more severe than those that only involve passenger vehicles, the FMCSA's trucking regulations dealing with alcohol and drugs are among its most important. Found at 49 C.F.R. § 382, these regulations hold commercial drivers, including those who drive tractor trailers and other trucks, to higher standards than regular drivers by imposing especially hefty fines and license suspensions for driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Chief among these regulations is the one that prohibits truck drivers from having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of higher than 0.04% while driving. This is significantly lower than the BAC that sets the legal limits for passenger or non-commercial drivers, and can also lead to penalties for the trucking company for letting their employee drive while in such a condition.
Additionally, these alcohol and drug regulations deal with how truck drivers can be screened for the presence of intoxicants both before being hired and while on a trucking company's roster of workers.
Philadelphia Truck Accident Attorneys
Regulating how truckers and trucking companies can operate is one of the best ways that the federal government can help to prevent a serious truck accident in Philadelphia that leaves you or someone you love with serious or even fatal injuries. By regulating the numerous aspects of trucking, these rules can minimize the impact of these crashes or even prevent them completely. However, poor enforcement mechanisms and financial incentives to ignore these regulations mean that numerous trucks on the roads and highways of Philadelphia are in violation of these rules, putting people at serious risk.
The personal injury attorneys at the law office of Gilman & Bedigian work to represent truck accident victims in court to ensure they get the compensation that they need to make a full recovery and to prevent similar accidents from happening in the future. Contact our law office online or call us at (800) 529-6162 to schedule a free consultation that can help you understand your legal rights and options.