inspector checking commercial semi truck for safety violationsTruck accidents are very different from car crashes, in no small part because logistics companies are bound by a special set of rules and statutes. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) serves as the main regulatory body for all commercial transportation companies in the United States. Among the agency’s foremost responsibilities is the maintenance of the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program, which holds truck drivers and their employers responsible for equipment violations, safety mistakes, and accidents.

The CSA Program and What It Means for You

The FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program uses a special Safety Measurement System (SMS) to track truck drivers' and trucking companies’ history of inspections, violations, and accidents. The SMS database is updated every 30 days to include information such as:

  • Safety violations
  • Vehicle inspections
  • When, how, and why violations happen
  • The number of vehicles in a company’s fleet and how far they travel

Aside from collecting metrics, the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program records accidents, regardless of whether a truck driver or third-party motorist was at-fault.

The CSA is a critical tool for federal regulators and attorneys alike because it provides a long-lasting, company- and driver-specific record of mistakes, successes, and accidents. If a company has a history of failing inspections or failing to maintain its vehicles, it—along with an at-fault driver—can be held liable for negligence.

Common CSA Violations

The FMCSA holds trucking companies to high standards. Truck drivers and their employers can be penalized for minor equipment faults and parts failures, from broken taillights to loose engine and injection hoses. Consequently, almost every trucking company that has operated for any significant amount of time will have some violations.

While some violations are difficult for even experienced drivers and trained mechanics to prevent, others are more easily avoidable and often attributable to negligence. Examples include:

  • Logbook violations. All truck drivers have to maintain “logbooks,” which track the time they spend on the road, resting, and eating. When drivers fail to keep accurate logbooks, they risk operating while fatigued. Although most drivers now use electronic logbooks, they can and still do make mistakes.
  • Hours-of-service violations. Truck drivers usually get paid per mile, which means they want to cover as much ground as possible every day. Sometimes, when they get behind schedule when making a delivery or are carrying high-value freight, they may skip a federally mandated break or drive longer hours than they are legally allowed in a single day.
  • Tire tread violations. Since tire tread can make or break a vehicle’s ability to stop quickly in an emergency, truck drivers are frequently cited and fined for having low tread.
  • Maintenance violations. The FMCSA requires trucking companies to perform regular maintenance. Drivers are also required to ensure that critical parts are safe to use before hitting the road. When drivers and companies do not perform regular maintenance checks, they put other motorists in danger.
  • Physical and medical violations. Trucking companies are required by law to send their drivers for physical and medical examinations every one to two years.
  • Substance violations. Semi-truck drivers are not allowed to drive under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. All commercial drivers must submit to drug and alcohol tests at the beginning of their employment and at random intervals each year.

When trucking companies and semi-truck drivers fail to adhere to both the law and basic safety precautions, they pose a risk to everyone else on the road.

How an Attorney Can Help

If you were hurt by a semi-truck driver, you could make a claim for compensation through insurance or a personal injury lawsuit. Since semi-truck accidents are complicated, your attorney may seek compensation from:

  • The driver
  • The trucking company
  • A shipper or receiver
  • A parts company, if a defective part caused or contributed to your accident
  • A third-party, such as a government entity, if poor road maintenance or unsafe conditions caused or contributed to your accident

However, in order to get the recovery you need, you will have to show that the other party caused your injuries. Even if you believe you have an open-and-shut case, an insurance company, judge, or jury will need to see concrete evidence that an insurance carrier, trucking company, or semi-truck driver should be compelled to pay your damages.

A Missouri truck accident attorney can help you demonstrate fault by looking at the circumstances of your accident. We might:

  • Visit the accident scene
  • Subpoena surveillance footage of the crash
  • Requisition police reports
  • Interview potential eyewitnesses
  • Consult expert witnesses
  • Obtain driver call logs, text messages histories, and “black box” data

Oftentimes, a company’s history of CSA violations plays an integral role in settlement negotiations. After all, drivers and companies that frequently break the law are more likely to hurt innocent people. A lengthy record of violations can be used to demonstrate that a truck driver, or their employer, bears responsibility for an accident.

Megan D. Andrews
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