Tractor-trailer drivers are governed by state traffic laws and by the federal motor carrier safety regulations (FMCSRs). The most common North Carolina traffic laws that govern truck drivers are as follows:
- N.C.G.S. 20-138—Impaired Driving In A Commercial Vehicle: For commercial drivers, the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration is .04 percent in private vehicles and .01 percent when driving a commercial truck. Federal regulations often require the driver to report voluntarily for BAC testing following an accident. If a sober driver fails to secure this testing, this failure can be admitted as evidence that impairment could have indeed been a factor leading to the collision.
- N.C.G.S. 20-140—Reckless Driving: This statute forbids driving “without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.”
- N.C.G.S. 20-140.2—Overloaded Vehicle: Trucks are difficult to handle when cargo is unevenly loaded or overloaded. If cargo was insecure, out of balance, or overweight, this is a violation of our traffic law.
- N.C.G.S. 20-141—Speed Restrictions: Speed is often a factor in truck accidents. This statute requires the truck driver to obey all posted limits and prohibits the driver from driving at a speed that is greater than “reasonable and prudent under the conditions then existing.” Thus, in rain or heavy traffic, speeding violations can occur even if the driver is traveling within the posted limit.
- N.C.G.S. 20-146—Drive on Right Side of Roadway: This statute requires the truck driver to maintain his or her proper lane of travel, to avoid improper lane mergers, and to remain on the right side of any divided road/highway.
- N.C.G.S. 20-148—Meeting of Vehicles: This statute requires vehicles approaching in oppositedirections to avoid crossing center.
- N.C.G.S. 20-149—Overtaking a Vehicle: This statute requires a vehicle that is passing another to leave two feet of space while passing and to return to the right side/lane only when there is sufficient room to do so. This statute also requires the vehicle being passed to yield to the passing vehicle and to maintain speed to allow the pass to occur.
- N.C.G.S. 20-150—Limitation on Privilege of Overtaking/Passing: The passing vehicle can initiate a pass only if the oncoming lane is clear, only when the curve or grade of the road allows visibility five hundred feet ahead, and never at double-yellow centerlines or railway crossings.
- N.C.G.S. 20-151—Driver to Give Way to Overtaking Vehicle: If a driver is being passed, he or she must not speed up or act in a way to prevent being overtaken.
- N.C.G.S. 20-152—Following Too Closely: This is the most common cause of rear-end collisions. Trucks require greater stopping distances than private passenger autos, and truck drivers should be fully aware of the distance required to stop. When a vehicle is struck from behind, this law is the basis for all claims against the truck driver.
- N.C.G.S. 20-153—Turning at Intersections: This statute requires drivers turning right to remain as close to the right curb as possible and drivers turning left to yield to oncoming traffic and ensure that the turn can be made without interfering with the safe flow of traffic.
- N.C.G.S. 20-154—Signals on Starting, Stopping or Turning—This statute requires a vehicle intending to turn to use visible turn signals and to maintain the visible signal for two hundred feet prior to the intended maneuver whenever the speed limit is forty-five miles per hour or greater. Vehicles that stop must have proper brake lights and signals as well.
- N.C.G.S. 20-155—Right of Way: Drivers turning left must yield and give the right of way to oncoming vehicles and to pedestrians in crosswalks. Drivers entering from a driveway, parking area, alley, or side street must yield before entering the adjacent roadway. If two vehicles approach an intersection from different roads at the same time, the driver to the left must yield to the driver to the right.
- N.C.G.S. 20-158—Vehicle Control Signs or Signals: If the truck driver disobeyed any signs, painted lines, or traffic controls during the approach to the accident site, this statute provides the basis for legal liability.
- N.C.G.S. 20-161—Stopping on Highway Prohibited: This statute, coupled with similar federal regulations, prohibits stopping on the roadway and requires disabled vehicles to be moved (when possible) or clearly identified with warning flares, reflective triangles, etc.
Beyond our North Carolina state traffic laws, the following Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations are commonly encountered in truck accident cases:
- F.M.C.S.R. 392.3—Ill or Fatigued Operator: This regulation prohibits the truck driver and the trucking company from continuing a trip when the driver’s ability or alertness is impaired or likely to become impaired because of illness, fatigue, or any other cause. There are strict rules governing the number of consecutive hours that a truck driver can legally remain on the road. Truck drivers are also required to maintain driver trip logs and all trip receipts (for meals, fuel, hotel, etc.) to prove that they took required breaks and did not remain on the road any longer than federal laws allow.
- F.M.C.S.R. 392.4—Drugs or Other Substances: No driver shall be on duty and possess, be under the influence of, or use any amphetamine, any narcotic drug or derivative thereof, or any other impairing substance.
- F.M.C.S.R. 392.5—Alcohol Prohibition: Under federal regulations, a truck driver cannot use alcohol within four hours before going on duty or use alcohol or have any measured alcohol concentration or detected presence of alcohol while operating or in physical control of a commercial vehicle.
- F.M.C.S.R. 392.6—Schedules to Conform with Speed Limits: If the trucker was speeding, this regulation allows suit directly against the trucking company if the delivery and trip schedules impose deadlines that cannot be achieved without speeding.
- F.M.C.S.R. 392.7—Equipment Inspection and Use: This regulation requires the trucking company and the truck driver to inspect and ensure proper function of the service brakes, trailer brake connections, parking / hand brake, steering mechanism, lighting devices and reflectors, tires, horn, windshield wipers, rear-vision mirrors, and coupling devices.
- F.M.C.S.R. 392.9—Inspection of Cargo and Cargo Securement Devices: The truck driver and those involved in loading the cargo are governed by strict regulations that require careful strapping, stacking, balancing, and securing of all cargo before the journey begins. During the journey, the driver is also charged with the legal obligation to check and secure cargo.
- F.M.C.S.R. 392.14—Hazardous Driving Conditions: A truck driver is required to use “extreme caution” in hazardous conditions, such as snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist rain, dust, or smoke. If conditions are sufficiently dangerous, the truck driver is legally obligated to immediately discontinue travel and get off the road.
- F.M.C.S.R. 392.22—Emergency Signals, Stopped Vehicles: A truck driver is required to follow specific steps to alert approaching traffic whenever his or her truck is stopped upon the traveled portion of a highway or on the shoulder.
- Miscellaneous Regulations: The federal regulations impose strict guidelines for drivers (e.g., license requirements, training, log keeping, reporting) and for trucking companies (e.g., hiring requirements, driver record requirements, testing requirements, truck maintenance requirements, etc.).
This is a small subset of the federal trucking regulations, but these are certainly the regulations that are most commonly encountered in commercial collision cases. Our lawyers will certainly look at the full body of federal regulatory law to make sure that we identify all safety violations that gave rise to your collision. Truck accident victims should always invest time to research all applicable laws and identify each and every legal violation committed by the commercial driver and also any violations committed by the trucking company. Thorough legal analysis solidifies the case of fault and legal liability and increases the settlement/trial-verdict value of the truck accident injury claim.