Most traffic laws exist on a state-by-state or local basis. The federal government does not impose specific driving requirements on those in control of a personal vehicle for the most part. However, when the vehicle someone drives is a semi-truck or other large commercial vehicle, there are federal regulations that apply.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) oversees the commercial transportation industry and enforces federal traffic rules. Unfortunately, those rules may not always serve their intended purpose of protecting members of the public.
How trucking regulations fail
The unfortunate truth about industry regulations is that as soon as the government puts a new rule in place, companies start looking for a way to bend or break the rule without getting into trouble. The Hours of Service rules are a perfect example. The FMCSA limits how long a commercial driver can be on the road in a single shift and requires a certain amount of breaks and rest time. There is even a seven or eight-day limit for the total number of hours someone can drive.
To prevent abuses of the system, modern commercial trucks have to have electronic logging devices (ELDs). Unfortunately, transportation companies may make intentional changes to ELD records or can even file a request for exemption from Hours of Service rules. They may pressure their drivers to stay on the road for longer than they should be driving or may assign them secondary tasks that make their shifts last far beyond how much time they put in on the road itself.
The result of such practices is that fatigue is a major safety concern in the commercial transportation industry, with many crashes occurring because drivers fall asleep at the wheel or have delayed reactions because of their exhaustion. Other regulations, like the no-text rule that applies to commercial drivers and the stricter rules about personal health, alcohol consumption and drug use also fail to curtail dangerous behaviors that put the public at risk.
These policies may allow for punishment after a violation leads to unfortunate consequences for others but do not actually prevent drivers or their employers from making dangerous choices. Those involved in the commercial crash may need to negotiate sizable insurance claims or prepare to take either the driver or their employer to civil court.
Recognizing that trucking regulations don’t actually prevent the worst possible collisions may help people make more safety-conscious choices in traffic and understand that truck operators and their employers may be liable for harm caused by any accidents that do occur.