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DOT REGULATIONS FOR TRUCKING Equipment, maintenance and document retention under the FMCSA


BY MIKE H. BASSETT AND AARON J. ROLEN Guest Writers


When a lawsuit arises out of a com-


mercial vehicle accident, a plaintiff ’s attor- ney usually inspects the vehicle, the scene, and the company’s records to determine whether the company properly performed vehicle maintenance, installed the proper equipment, and maintained a record of its actions as required under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act (FMSCA). The plaintiff attorney’s goal is to locate evidence of noncom- pliance and to blame the acci- dent on that noncompliance (e.g., the accident happened because the company failed to replace a damaged headlight). A persuasive plaintiff ’s


attorney will use evidence of a company’s noncompliance to convince jurors that the com- pany is irresponsible, careless, and even dangerous. This tactic is effective, regardless of whether the alleged noncompliance actual- ly caused the accident, because jurors may be more likely to award large awards or punitive damages against companies they view negatively. To combat this tactic, com- panies utilizing commercial vehicles should take extra care to understand and comply with the requirements under the FMCSA, especially regulations that relate to safety concerns such as those concerning vehicle equipment, inspection, and maintenance.


58 Summer 2015 While numerous regulations apply to


vehicle maintenance, inspection, and safe- ty, the goal of this paper is to highlight some of the more important FMCSA requirements that are frequently at issue in litigation. Part I of this paper introduces the FMSCA and discusses when a company must comply with FMCSA regulations. Part II highlights and discusses particular- ly important commercial vehicle equipment


state commerce.” See 49 C.F.R. § 390.3(a). More importantly for our purposes, § 393.1 specifically dictates that every carrier, its employees, and inspectors must “be knowl- edgeable and comply with the requirements and specifications [of this section of the FMSCA].” Moreover, § 393.1 provides that a carrier may not operate a commercial vehicle that does not comply with the FMSCA. Therefore, if a company puts a truck on the road that has a broken tail light (or some other issue), then that company has directly violated the FMSCA. In a nutshell, this means


that almost every trucking company must fully comply with FMSCA regulations. These sections are important for pub- lic safety and because a zealous Plaintiff ’s attorney will use noncompliance as a weapon against a company who “failed to follow the safety rules.” A company must be aware of rele- vant FMSCA regulations, and it must take steps to ensure its employees are thoroughly


issues such as lighting, reflective tape, and other visual issues. Part III details mainte- nance and inspection issues and discusses the importance of record keeping under the FMSCA.


Part I: The FMCSA A few exceptions aside, FMSCA regu-


lations apply to “all employers, employees, and commercial motor vehicles, which transport property or passengers in inter-


trained on this topic.


Part II: Equipment, Lighting and Reflectors One of the most frequently litigated


issues is inadequate lighting or inadequate reflectors/reflector tape. A plaintiff will allege that a truck’s flashers were not work- ing properly, or that the truck’s reflector tape was missing, damaged, or too dirty to see. A company that is knowledgeable of


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