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Find out how the trucking industry keeps America's roads safe.

Trucking laws and regulations ensure safety on the road. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Trucking laws and regulations ensure safety on the road.

The trucking industry helps deliver necessary goods throughout the United States. The American Trucking Association reports that the industry brings goods and services to 80 percent of communities in the U.S. In order to keep both truck drivers and average citizens safe, the trucking industry is highly regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). For example, trucks must be weighed periodically to ensure that they don't go over the road's weight limits. Additionally, special care must be taken when transporting hazardous materials.

Truck Weight Checks

The Federal Highway Administration has established a program to check the weight and length of trucks in an effort to preserve highways that are funded by tax dollars. Trucks that weigh too much may place unnecessary strain on the roads, causing them to deteriorate more quickly. Additionally, older bridges may not have been built to withstand the current maximum weight laws. If an overweight truck were to drive on this type of bridge, it could cause serious damage to the bridge, the truck, the driver and bystanders.

There are weight check stations along most highways, and truck drivers are required to make stops to check the truck's weight. As of 2009, the weight limit for a single axle is 20,000 pounds, a tandem axle is 34,000 pounds and the maximum gross vehicle weight is 80,000 pounds. Additionally, there may be limits to a truck's length and width. These limits are set by the state.

Truckers who have not had problems with weigh stations should consider using the NORPASS system. NORPASS gives registered truckers a transponder that communicates with weigh stations. As the truck passes the weigh station, it may be allowed to bypass the system, assuming the trucker has not had past violations. However, the system does test randomly, so a trucker may have to stop for checks despite having the system. As of 2009, NORPASS worked in Alaska, British Columbia, Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, New York, Quebec, South Dakota, Washington, North Carolina and Oregon.

Trucking Laws and Regulations

Because driving a large commercial truck is quite different from driving a small car, the government requires truck drivers to receive a Commercial Driver's License (CDL). This involves a special training program and a written and driving test. Additionally, drivers must submit to alcohol and drug testing. FMCSA regulations stipulate that drivers must periodically receive breath alcohol tests and urine tests for other types of drugs to prevent drivers from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Drivers have limits placed on the length of time they are able to drive. For example, a trucker driving a commercial vehicle with property may only drive 11 hours after having 10 hours off and may not drive after being on-duty more than 14 hours. Drivers also have a 70-hour limit within an eight-day timeframe. These regulations help to ensure that drivers are alert when driving their vehicles, guaranteeing the safety of everyone on the road.

The vehicles themselves have several regulations that must be followed, aside from weight and length restrictions. For example, they must comply with federal noise regulations and they must have regular inspections and maintenance to ensure safe driving.

Companies that transport hazardous materials must also follow special regulations. The company must register with the Department of Transportation if they are going to ship hazardous materials. The company must also identify the hazardous substance and place a marker on the outside of the truck identifying that it is carrying a particular hazardous material. Additionally, all truck drivers that transport hazardous materials must receive special training. In the case of an accident, this ensures that the driver knows the correct response.

All trucking companies should pay strict attention to any changes in the law to avoid fines.

Share the Road

Many accidents that involve big-rig trucks and passenger vehicles are caused by the passenger vehicles. According to the OC Register, of the 7,262 accidents involving big rigs in California in 2008, 56 percent were caused by a passenger vehicle. The American Trucking Association has started the Share the Road program to help prevent these types of accidents.

The Share the Road program aims to teach drivers important safety tips for sharing the road with large trucks. Some of these tips include:

  • Leaving space between the passenger vehicle and the truck, up to 25 car lengths.
  • Making sure that the truck's headlights are visible before moving into its lane.
  • Staying focused and avoiding distractions, such as cellular phones.

The American Trucking Association also presents workshops and seminars to the public about sharing the road.

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