Commercial Vehicle Accidents and Laws in Georgia
Commercial vehicles are larger and heavier vehicles. Commercial vehicles are trucks that transport cargo or transport a certain number of passengers for compensation. If the vehicle fits within the Georgia state definition of a commercial vehicle, then it is subject to federal and state regulations.
A vehicle is a commercial vehicle if:
- It has a manufacturer’s gross weight or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds; or
- It is a vehicle designed or used to carry more than 8 passengers, including the driver, for compensation; or
- It is a vehicle designed or used to carry more than 15 passengers, including the driver, but not for compensation; or
- It is a vehicle that transports hazardous material in a quantity that requires placards
Regulations governing commercial vehicles apply to these trucks, regardless if the driver has a commercial driver’s license.
What are Intrastate and Interstate Vehicles?
Intrastate vehicles in Georgia include:
- School buses
- Fire trucks
- Dump trucks
- Cement trucks
- Construction vehicles
- Logging vehicles
- Garbage trucks
- Other municipal vehicles
- Vans for disabled or the elderly
Interstate vehicles are vehicles that drive through different states and typically include the following:
- UPS trucks
- FedEx trucks
- Highway trucks
- Department store semis
- Private charters like Greyhound buses
Both State and Federal Standards Adopted by Georgia
Intrastate commercial vehicles in Georgia are covered by both the Georgia Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The Georgia DPS has adopted many of the FMCSA rules such as:
- Commercial drivers must take an annual DOT physical examination;
- Radar detectors are prohibited;
- Pre and post-trip vehicle inspections and documentation is required; and
- Time or service hours must be followed.
Short-haul drivers in Georgia are subject to strict state law in that they may drive for 11-hours provided they were off duty for at least 10-hours before their new shift begins.
Employers are required to maintain time records going back 6-months. If a person is injured by truck and the truck company did not property maintain records, it may be presumed that the records would have indicated that the driver was fatigued on the day of the accident.
Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which includes long haul drivers who drive at least a 150-mile radius, drivers may work no more than 60-70 hours over a 7-day or 8-day period. Intrastate drivers may not drive more than 12-hours following 8 consecutive hours off-duty, or for any period after having been on a shift for 16-hours following 8 consecutive hours off-duty.
Georgia logging trucks also must have certain lighting and load securement and carry an intrastate motor carrier license.
If the truck is not transporting hazardous materials, a Georgia truck driver engaged in intrastate commerce may be 18-years of age. Driving across state lines or with hazardous material onboard requires that you be at least 21-years old.
Proper record-keeping of vehicle inspections is another strict requirement for all Georgia commercial vehicles. Inspections are to cover:
- Windshield wipers
- Steering columns
- Wheels and rims
- Windshield glazing
- Vacuum systems
- Other safety devices
Insurance and Coverage Issues
Companies that operate commercial vehicles in Georgia must carry insurance of at least $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. Most companies, however, carry policies of at least $1,000,000 since accidents with heavy vehicles often result in substantial injuries. Owners and operators can also be held liable in vehicle accidents for the negligent acts of its drivers.
Under O.C.G.A. § 40-2-140, a commercial vehicle accident victim can directly sue the motor carrier’s insurer and the truck operator’s liability insurer. Practically that means that the lawsuit can identify the name of the truck company’s insurance carrier unlike a normal car versus car accident where the accident victim is not allowed to identify the name of the auto insurance company in the lawsuit.
Drug Testing of Drivers
Truck drivers work long hours and often drive hundreds of miles in a single day. They then drive several hundred miles the next day. Monotony and boredom are part of the job, but drivers are also under deadlines to deliver their loads. To stave off fatigue and to keep focused, drivers sometimes take methamphetamine, cocaine, or opioids for an injury or back pain, whether legally prescribed or not.
In many truck accidents, drugs or alcohol play a part. The federal regulations regarding drug and alcohol testing have been adopted by Georgia law that requires that companies test its drivers who operate commercial vehicles with safety-sensitive obligations, and encompass a wide range of situations:
- Fatal accidents
- Injury accident for victim who received treatment at a facility and the truck driver was cited
- New drivers
- Accident that resulted in disabling property damage and the driver was issued a citation
- Any case where the driver is suspected of using drugs or alcohol
- Before a driver who tested positive can return to duty
Common Violations That Are Factors in Accidents
Some of the more common trucking violations leading to accidents include:
- No stopped vehicle warning devices
- Driver exceeded hours of service limitations
- Operator failed to keep time records of its drivers
- No record of annual inspection of vehicle
- Failure to produce a medical exam certificate for the driver
- Trailer not equipped with reflectors or required brakes or lights
- Driver had a blood alcohol concentration level of any measurable amount
- Failure to produce daily inspection records or to certify that any defects or deficiencies had been repaired
- Distracted driving
- Inexperienced or poorly trained driver
- Drugged driving
- Motor carrier negligently entrusted the vehicle to the driver
What does negligent entrustment mean?
Negligent entrustment in a Georgia lawsuit requires that the employer or carrier have had knowledge of the driver’s inexperience or incompetence, though circumstantial knowledge is adequate to hold the carrier liable. Caroline Cable Contractors, Inc. v. Hattaway, 226 Ga. App. 413, 416 (1997).
A carrier must conduct a background check of a driver, including motor vehicle records and discussions with prior employers. If an accident or mishap is revealed to the carrier that did not appear in the records, the carrier has a duty to check on the accuracy of the driver’s account of the incident. If the employer could have gained knowledge of the driver’s incompetence based on prior incidents, then it could be found to have had constructive knowledge that it was not safe to hire this driver, or that he needed further training.
Any violation of a regulation or state law can be deemed as negligence per se, or that the driver is presumed negligent. In such cases, your attorney can find it easier to prosecute your claim and only have to prove the reasonableness and extent of your damages.
Truck accident cases are not the same as car accident cases. Talk with an experienced truck accident lawyer who knows Georgia’s laws and the federal laws.