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Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Overview

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a federal agency tasked with preventing severe injuries and deaths related to commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). The federal government established the FMCSA as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2000.

The FMCSA implements special rules and regulations for commercial drivers. Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations cover everything from hours-of-service rules to maintaining records of tractor-trailer weigh-ins.

This article will explain what the FMCSA does. It will also discuss how this agency helps truck accident victims. Finally, it will describe how your personal injury or wrongful death attorney will use federal regulations to prove your case.

What Is the Primary Purpose of the FMCSA?

Commercial motor vehicles are much heavier than passenger vehicles. Truckers haul heavy loads, carry multiple passengers, and present elevated risks of injury. As a result, they have special regulations.

The law often treats CMVs as "common carriers," such as commercial airplanes and subway trains. Like other common carriers, most trucking companies use CMVs for commerce. But they're unique because they aren't available to the general public.

The FMCSA handles the following:

  • Drafting and enforcing CMV safety regulations
  • Keeping high-risk carriers and drivers off the roads
  • Limiting the number of hours, commercial drivers may work
  • Ensuring all commercial truckers have a valid commercial driver's license (CDL)
  • Maintaining accident reports for 18-wheelers and bus companies
  • Improving access to safety information and new technologies
  • Increasing awareness about safety

Your truck accident lawyer can use violations of FMCSA regulations to help prove your case. If a truck driver violates these rules, the judge may consider them negligent. This is the standard the court imposes for civil liability.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at a Glance

The FMCSA's primary mission is to reduce collisions, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. The agency achieves this goal mainly through:

  • Research
  • Investigation of crashes
  • Enforcement of regulations
  • Compliance audits for drivers and trucking companies

For example, the FMCSA started a National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners in 2014. Under this registry, physicians evaluating interstate CMV drivers must complete specialized training.

The agency has also done extensive research on driver fatigue. It instituted "hours of service" regulations to give drivers enough rest periods and time off.

The agency has field offices nationwide that can answer your questions about FMCSA regulations. You can also file complaints with these regional offices.

Compliance, Safety, Accountability

The FMCSA's Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program conducts compliance audits and maintains an enforcement system for keeping problem drivers off the roads. Specifically, the FMCSA divides the program into seven areas of focus. These areas all have to do with the common causes of truck accidents.

According to the CSA program, the most common causes of tractor-trailer accidents include:

Also, the FMCSA offers an online complaint form for the public to call with any safety, service, or discrimination issues with a CMV.

What Qualifies as a Commercial Motor Vehicle?

Generally, CMVs are vehicles driven for business purposes. They include chartered buses, large delivery trucks, and 18-wheel semi-trucks. Commercial vehicle drivers must carry a commercial driver's license, which is more restrictive than a personal driver's license.

The DOT defines a "commercial motor vehicle" as one "used in commerce to transport passengers or property." A vehicle must meet the following criteria to qualify as a CMV:

  1. A combined weight of at least 26,001 pounds (including a towed unit weighing at least 10,000 pounds)
  2. Designed to transport at least 16 passengers (including the driver)
  3. Is of any size and transports hazardous materials

State definitions of commercial vehicles may differ from the federal definition for compliance purposes. Check the laws of your state to determine what qualifies as a CMV. Regardless, federal regulations apply to any CMVs involved in interstate commerce.

Local delivery vehicles do not qualify as CMVs. So, the FMCSA's regulations do not apply to them. Your personal injury lawyer must find another way to prove negligence if the defendant wasn't driving a CMV.

Does the FMCSA Help Truck Accident Victims?

The FMCSA helps motorists in two significant ways. First, it sets safety guidelines that help prevent commercial truck accidents in the first place. Second, the agency can provide your attorney with information to show that the trucker was negligent or even reckless and liable for your injuries.

If your attorney can show that the defendant violated the FMCSA regulations, the judge may rule them negligent per se. The violation is enough to prove negligence. You may not need to submit proof that the driver was negligent in another way.

Your Personal Injury Lawyer Can Request Information from the Agency

Your personal injury attorney will ideally settle your claim with the insurance company. You may have to file a lawsuit if they can't do this. You'll likely name several parties in your case.

Some of the people or entities that you'll name in your initial civil complaint include:

  • The commercial driver
  • The trucking company the driver works for
  • The mechanic or auto shop that services the commercial vehicle
  • The manufacturer of the vehicle or its parts
  • Any other third party responsible for your car accident

To prove fault, your attorney may need documentation from the FMCSA. For example, they may request a copy of the defendant's hours-of-service logs. This could show that the driver was over the limit during the truck accident. Or your attorney might subpoena safety records from the agency for the truck, the driver, and the company.

Speak to a Truck Accident Attorney About Your Case

If you or your loved one suffered severe injuries in a vehicle accident with a CMV, an experienced truck accident attorney can help. An attorney can explain how the FMCSA applies to your case and guide you on what steps to take next.

Most law firms offer new clients a free case review. Sit down with a licensed attorney and discuss your truck accident case. Your personal injury lawyer will tell you if you have a valid claim against the truck driver or their employer. They can also let you know what your accident claim could be worth.

Consult Findlaw's truck accident lawyer directory to find an attorney near you.

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