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Frequently Asked Questions on Trucking Accidents by Shannon McNulty of Clifford Law Offices – Part I

Question: What is a commercial vehicle? Shannon: It’s essentially any vehicle that engaged in commerce that’s an easy way to remember it.  When we speak of commerce, we think of the transportation of goods or live stock, the transportation of people. Question: Are there any special rules or regulations that govern commercial vehicles? Shannon: Actually the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Regulations (FMCSR) as well as the state’s regulations will govern the operation of commercial vehicles.  In the state of Illinois, in addition to the FMCSR, would be the Illinois State Police and Department of Transportation that assist in the enforcement of those regulations. Question: Are drivers of commercial vehicles required to have a special license? Shannon: They are.  Drivers of commercial vehicles are required to have a CDL.  And that is a drivers license that allows them to operate commercial vehicles.  And it’s significant for the drivers to have the CDL because it allows for a proper evaluation of the driver’s ability to operate those vehicles. Question: Are truck drivers and commercial vehicle operators required to carry insurance? Shannon: They are, much like drivers of passenger vehicles such as ourselves.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require $750,000.00 minimum in insurance.  And the state of Illinois has a requirement of has a requirement of minimum of $1 million. Question: Insurance is very important to the commercial drivers as well because there is a strict rule, strict laws, on drinking and driving when it comes to commercial drivers as well, isn’t there? Shannon: That’s absolutely correct.  Again, those rules are enforced by the Illinois State Police as well as many other law enforcement agencies throughout all of our states, but also the federal government is very strict of the enforcement of its regulations. Question: Is there a time limit for how long the driver of a commercial vehicle can spend on the road? Shannon: There are.  And there are many exceptions and variations on the time limits, but essentially the general rule is no more than 11 cumulative hours of driving after the driver has had 10 consecutive hours off.  And that essentially translates no more than 70 hours in an eight day work week.  T hose hours are documented in Driver Logs and so the driver must be diligent in maintaining his logs indicating hours of operation; meaning the hours he or she is driving as well as the hours they are at rest.  And the state police as well as many other municipal law enforcement agencies are again vigilant in checking those logs whenever you see, for instance a Weigh Station or sometimes a police officer may decide to stop a driver for any number of reasons and those logs should be on hand and those logs should be up to date through the hour. Question: Is that one of the reasons why along highways trucks are parked on the side of the roads, in the middle of nowhere, that this is the time they need to stop? Shannon: They do, they are going out of service so that they can comply with the federal regulations as well as the regulations of the state and that is exactly what you are seeing. Question: What is driver fatigue and how does driver fatigue cause collisions? Shannon: We find in cases involving driver fatigue that the logs aren’t always accurate because they have to comply with them and they want to drive longer hours if they have to.  So what we try to do in those cases is to see things like gas receipts, meal receipts and put them at different times at specific locations at different times.  It may be in contradiction to their logs. The goal of the Motor Carrier Regulations is to prevent driver fatigue, which is great, but there are always people who are going to try to get around it.  So driver fatigue is a big cause of truck accidents.  You see trucks that leave the roadway because drivers doze off, just like any driver, but because of their sheer size and destructive nature, they have more consequences usually. Question: A lot of these logs are pretty much kept record by their merit system by them entering themselves.  Isn’t that right? Shannon: That’s true.  It is by the driver’s honor; however, usually the driver is working on behalf of a company.  Either they are being dispatched on behalf of a company or a company had decided they need a particular good transported and they rely on this driver.  And so the obligation is on the companies as well to make sure that they don’t have a driver simply creating logs that are not in fact accurate in reflecting their true hours of service.  As Kevin mentioned, we see incidents where that does unfortunately occur and it is especially important for the driver to follow those requirements because of degraded judgment, decreasing coordination, and as well, these drivers need to have the information and training and supervision by the companies they work for to make sure that they are adhering to the regulations with respect to being out of service versus in service. Question: Do you find the companies themselves, the bosses, saying to these drivers, you need to get here by a certain time; I don’t care what it takes? Shannon:  There is always pressure in that industry to deliver “on time,” but many carriers are very responsible.  There are many that cut corners and those people are the ones that need to be scrutinized by the government to make sure the drivers are following the regulations. Shannon McNulty of Clifford Law Offices speaks about the many areas of transportation liability law involving trucks, railroads, tractor trailers, motorcycles and helicopters. She comes to Clifford Law Offices with a wealth of professional experience, including having worked for 10 years with the administration of the Chicago Police Department. Shannon is a part of the legal team that handles cases involving the roll-overs of a number of sport utility vehicles, known as SUVs that have resulted in the death or serious injuries of their occupants, and she also has been involved in the trial and small plane crash cases in the Chicagoland area. Shannon gives back to the Chicago community, having worked in the Albany Park neighborhood on crime prevention efforts, which resulted her in being recognized for outstanding service by the UNITE Civic Organization.