Are Commercial Trucks Required to Undergo Safety Inspections?

Plenty of Utah drivers have shared the nerve-wracking experience of passing semi-trailer trucks on I-80 or I-215.  It can be quite intimidating to share the lanes with these speeding giants, which sometimes seem as though they could jackknife, roll over, or spill their cargo at any moment.  It leads you to wonder just how safe big-rigs really are, and how they get inspected.  Here, Salt Lake truck accident lawyer Darwin Overson examines some of the federal safety laws truckers are required to follow in Utah and across the U.S.

FMCSA Regulations for Commercial Vehicle Inspections (Semi-Trailers, 18-Wheelers)

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The U.S. commercial trucking industry is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).  In an ongoing effort to help make America’s highways safer, the FMCSA sets various industry standards, such as record maintenance, the transportation of hazardous materials, and the repair, maintenance, and inspection of vehicles.  These regulations are consolidated under 49 CFR Parts 300-399.

Let’s start by reviewing some key provisions of the FMCSA’s standards for inspection, repairs, and maintenance of commercial vehicles, which are governed by 49 CFR § 396.

  • 49 CFR § 1 — The standards set by 49 CFR § 396 apply to all commercial trucks, with the exception of certain farm vehicles. All motor carriers, and their individual maintenance employees, are required to be aware of and to comply with these standards.
  • 49 CFR § 3 — “Every motor carrier… must systematically inspect, repair, and maintain… all motor vehicles… subject to its control.” Additionally:
    • “Parts and accessories shall be in safe and proper operating condition at all times.”
    • Emergency windows and doors must be inspected every 90 days (for example, on school buses).
    • If a motor carrier has control over a truck or other vehicle for at least 30 days in a row, it must keep records about that vehicle. These records need to include dates and descriptions for all maintenance work performed.
    • The company must hold onto the records for at least one and a half years after the vehicle leaves the carrier’s control.
  • 49 CFR § 5 — Trucking companies must ensure that their vehicles do not leak oil or grease.
  • 49 CFR § 396.7 — This section is especially important for truck accident survivors and the loved ones of wrongful death It states simply, “A motor vehicle shall not be operated in such a condition as to likely cause an accident or a breakdown of the vehicle.”  It also adds that if an unsafe condition is discovered mid-journey, the only destination the driver is allowed to travel toward is a repair station, provided doing so would be less dangerous than staying on the highway.
  • 49 CFR § 11 — All trucking companies must require truckers to prepare a daily report on each vehicle used that day. The report must include information about all parts of the truck, including the brakes, steering wheel, lights, tires, horn, mirrors, and windshield wipers.  Any product defects and deficiencies must be noted on the report.
  • 49 CFR § 13 — Truckers are required to give the truck a personal inspection before starting a journey.
  • 49 CFR § 17 — Carriers aren’t allowed to operate vehicles unless all of their components have passed a safety inspection at least once in the past 12 months.

Federal Safety Requirements for Truck Drivers and Motor Carriers

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FMCSA regulations also include additional safety standards for truckers and motor carriers.  For instance, 49 CFR § 397.2 requires all trucks carrying hazardous materials to be marked with signs indicating what’s onboard.

Importantly, under 49 CFR § 385.5, all motor carriers are required to earn a “satisfactory” safety rating.  In order for a truck or other commercial vehicle to meet the FMCSA’s “safety fitness standard” under this section, the company “must demonstrate [that] it has adequate safety management controls in place… to ensure acceptable compliance with applicable safety requirements to reduce the risk associated with” the following hazards, all of which can cause (or obscure important information about) serious or deadly trucking accidents:

  • Commercial driver’s license (CDL) violations.
  • Driver errors and improper operation of vehicles.
  • Encouraging, permitting, or otherwise overlooking fatigued drivers. Fatigue is a common problem in the trucking industry, because hourly driving limits for truckers are often ignored.
  • Failure to keep accident records, including copies of accident reports.
  • Failure to inspect, maintain, and/or repair vehicles in accordance with the safety inspection standards we talked about in the previous section.
  • Hazmat safety violations.
  • Highway use of unsafe vehicles that have failed safety inspections or have other hazards.
  • Unqualified drivers (e.g. drivers who have a history of committing DUI or getting into car accidents in Utah).

If one of your family members was injured in a trucking accident on I-80, I-215, or other highways in Utah, you and your loved ones could be entitled to compensation.  If the trucker violated safety regulations that caused an accident, he or she could be liable for your medical bills and other expenses, which you can learn more about in our article on Utah truck accident liability.  To find out if you might have an accident claim in a free legal consultation, call Salt Lake City personal injury lawyer Darwin Overson at (801) 895-3143.


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