Accidents with commercial vehicles, especially large 18-wheelers, can be terrifying and extremely dangerous. They are large, heavy, and often traveling at high speeds on the highway. These vehicles are subject to a wide array of state and federal regulations. If you or a family member experienced a collision with a commercial motor vehicle, consider speaking with an experienced Nashville-area personal injury attorney at Labrum Law. We are experienced in investigating crashes and building up our clients' cases to prove that commercial carriers were negligent in their operation or maintenance of these vehicles. Call us at (615) 338-9500 or visit our website to set up a free consultation.
When Do Motor Vehicle Carriers Have to Record an Accident?
Most drivers are aware of their state's driving rules. In Tennessee, for example, the Tennessee Vehicle Code § 55-10-107 requires drivers to report collisions to the state within 20 days of the accident where there was an injury, death, or property damage in excess of $1,500. However, many people do not realize that there are some instances where collisions must also be recorded pursuant to regulations by the federal Department of Transportation (DOT). These are called “DOT-recordable accidents.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is an agency within the DOT that regulates commercial carriers. The DOT requires commercial motor vehicles to record all of their serious accidents using an “accident register.”
According to the FMCSA, an accident must be recorded when:
- It involves any truck with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or gross combined weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds used on public highways, or
- It has seating to transport nine or more people, or
- It displays a hazardous materials placard, and
- It results in either a fatality, an injury, or a tow-away.
The term “commercial motor vehicle” usually conjures an image of an eighteen-wheeler, but big rigs are not the only type of vehicles subject to the FMCSA regulations. Additional examples of commercial vehicles can include:
- Delivery trucks
- Farm trucks
- Rented moving trucks
Does Recording an Accident Mean It Was the Driver's Fault?
No. The commercial driver is obligated to record the collision regardless of which driver was at fault. Therefore, if you are a driver of a commercial vehicle, you should always record the accident when the above criteria apply; it will not reflect negatively on you and cannot be used to prove liability. On the other hand, if you are the driver of a personal passenger vehicle and were involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle, know that the fact that the accident was recorded in an accident log does not mean that the truck driver is automatically responsible for the collision.
What Records Must Be Kept?
There is no specific form that motor carriers must keep, but the FMCSA has provided a sample accident register for drivers' reference. Pursuant to FMCSA Regulation §390.15, the driver must keep a list of accidents containing:
- The date of the accident
- The city or town, or most near, where the accident occurred and the state where the accident occurred
- The driver's name
- The number of injuries
- The number of fatalities
- Whether hazardous materials, other than fuel spilled from the fuel tanks of the motor vehicle involved in the accident, were released
These records must be kept for three years following the accident and made available to the authorities upon request to assist in investigations.
Why Do Carriers Need to Record Accidents?
Unsurprisingly, regulators want to know how many accidents are occurring per year. The frequency of accidents factors into a motor carrier's fitness to operate commercial vehicles and helps regulators determine areas of improvement. The FMCSA uses a system called Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) to detect and intervene with high-risk motor carrier companies and deter dangerous highway behaviors. Crash rates per 1 million miles driven are an important metric in determining the carrier's fitness.
What If I Was in a DOT-Recordable Accident?
Although the fact that the carrier must record the accident does not necessarily mean that they are at fault, a high crash rate can indicate that there may be a pattern of unsafe driving practices within the transportation company. For example, if the carrier's crash rate is higher than 1.5 crashes per million miles driven, then the carrier likely has an “unsatisfactory” score with the DOT. An experienced truck accident attorney can help investigate the carrier and build a strong case against them to help you prove that the commercial driver was negligent. Some of the most common categories that lead to high-risk commercial drivers include:
- Unsafe driving
- Hours of service compliance
- Vehicle maintenance
- Controlled substance/alcohol use
- Hazardous materials, and
- Driver fitness
Our experienced lawyers at Labrum Law know what to look for when we investigate commercial vehicle accidents. We use all of the documentation at our disposal to determine what went wrong, and why that driver is at fault. If you were involved in a DOT-recordable accident with a commercial carrier, consider contacting an attorney right away to start building your case.
If I Am Not Driving a Commercial Vehicle, Do I Have to Report Anything?
If you were involved in a collision with a commercial motor vehicle, but you were driving a passenger vehicle or were a pedestrian, you have no obligation to report anything to the federal Department of Transportation. However, be sure to comply with your state or local rules about informing law enforcement or reporting accidents to your state's department of motor vehicles.
Call Labrum Law to Speak with a Tennessee Truck Accident Lawyer
If you were involved in an accident with a large commercial vehicle, chances are that you suffered serious injuries or property damage. There may be a significant amount of money at stake in the form of medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering. Do not let the large insurance companies give you a settlement lower than you deserve under the law. Trust an experienced Nashville attorney to fight for a fair settlement on your behalf. Call Labrum Law at (615) 338-9500 or contact us online to set up a free consultation. We do not charge clients a fee unless we are able to win their case.