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the FMSCA rules can implement the appropriate company guidelines and more easily dispatch such allegations. The FMSCA provides very specific

directions for all aspects of vehicle lighting, including color, quantity, position, location, and height—all of which depend on vehicle type and size. See 49 C.F.R. § 393.11. The requirements are so specific that the FMSCA drafters saw fit to include a large table that organizes the requirements, 18 different “figures” (photo drawings) that resemble multiple vehicle types with asso- ciated lighting placements, and multiple legends to assist readers with interpreting the figures. These tables and figures do a wonderful job explaining otherwise com- plex and confusing requirements. While lighting and reflector place-

ment are addressed during the manufac- turing process (not by the carrier), truck companies will inevitably need to repair or replace lights and reflectors so employees must be educated to install and maintain the lights appropriately. A responsible com- pany should make complete copies of the table, figures, and legends available to all employees and should distribute copies directly to drivers and all maintenance and inspection employees. Doing so not only helps ensure that

the regulations are complied with, but it also will reflect positively (pun intended) on a company when a jury or judge is judg- ing the company’s actions after-the-fact. The table and associated materials can be found on the FMCSA website at http:// section/393.11. For the purposes of this paper, the most

important section concerning lighting and reflectors is § 393.9. This section requires that all required lamps be “capable of being operated at all times,” and it prohibits lamps or reflectors from being obscured or covered by dirt. While this two-paragraph section is simple and straightforward, its importance cannot be overstated. After an accident occurs, if a claimant

alleges that he or she did not see a vehicle and the claimant can show that the lights did not work or that the reflectors were so covered by dirt and grime as to make them imperceptible, then a judge or jury may




place liability on the “irresponsible” truck- ing company. To avoid accidents and liability, com-

panies utilizing commercial vehicles must ensure that lighting and reflector tape are perfectly in accord with the FMSCA. Since the regulations are so specific and detailed, there is little room for error.

Part III: Maintenance, Inspection,

and Record Keeping One oft-quoted lawyer aphorism is,

“If it ain’t in writing, it didn’t happen!” This cliché is doubly true in the context of fleet maintenance and inspection records. If a company cannot provide proof that its maintenance department (or someone) ser- viced a truck, fixed its brakes, inspected the vehicle, etc., then—as far as a judge and jury are concerned—the trucking company never serviced the truck and never repaired the brakes. If records are not up to date, or if the records reflect damage to the vehicle that remained unrepaired, chances are that the claimant’s attorney will allege that improper maintenance caused (or partially caused) the accident. The public is rarely sympathetic to trucking companies that fail (or appear to fail) to maintain brakes and cause major accidents. Before a carrier can create and main-

tain any inspection or maintenance records, however, inspections and mainte- nance must actually occur. Under 49 C.F.R § 396.1, every carrier “must systematically inspect, repair and maintain” vehicles sub- ject to its control. Moreover, § 396.13 requires that before operating a motor vehicle, every driver must be satisfied that the vehicle is in “safe operating condition,” and the driver must review the most recent driver vehicle inspection report. If any defects were noted on the previous report,

then the driver must sign the report to con- firm that there is a certification that the required repairs have been performed. For any vehicle a carrier controls for

30 days or more, the carrier must maintain records that identify the vehicle, its upcom- ing maintenance and inspection due dates, and its inspection, repair, testing, and maintenance records. See 49 C.F.R. § 396. A carrier must maintain such records for at least 18 months after the vehicle leaves the company’s control. Periodic inspection reports and other similar documentation must be updated and kept in the vehicle or displayed properly on the vehicle (i.e., an inspection sticker). See 49 C.F.R. §§ 396.17(c), 396.23(a). Keeping up with simple fleet

maintenance and inspection records will both ensure that a truck fleet is properly maintained as required by the FMSCA and prevent a plaintiff ’s attorney from building a negligence case based on improper fleet maintenance issues. A company can hire the best mechanics and engineers available, but if the company cannot produce records showing that the truck was inspected, serviced, and fixed appropriately, then the company is almost as bad off as the company who completely neglected basic fleet maintenance.

Conclusion The FMSCA provides very specific

regulations concerning equipment, fleet maintenance, and record keeping. In turn, companies have few excuses for failing to comply with those regulations, and a court will likely see any such failure as negligence on the company’s part. To avoid accidents and undeserved liability, a company must take responsibility, educate its employees, and follow applicable FMSCA regulations. R

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