Mary Jane bought a second-hand BMW from a used car dealership. She drove it for almost a year with no apparent difficulties; however, she never inspected the vehicle. What Mary Jane did not realize or care to realize was that when she bought the used car, the original tires had never been replaced. After driving the vehicle for one year, the tires became severely threadbare to the point that there was barely any tread left on them. On her way to work one day, the right rear tire had a blowout. Mary Jane lost control of the vehicle and swerved into the opposite lane of traffic, hitting another vehicle head on. The passengers in the other vehicle were severely injured as a result.
Every day accidents like this happen because of other drivers’ negligent inspection and maintenance of their vehicles. These types of cases occur with frequency with passenger vehicles. More problematic, trucking companies and their drivers often fail to inspect and maintain their 18-wheeler and other commercial vehicles which can lead to catastrophic results.
What are the rules of the road when it comes to inspection and maintenance of a vehicle?
Texas Law requires that an owner or operator of a motor vehicle must inspect and maintain their vehicle in proper working order. See Rainbow Express, Inc. v. Unkenholz, 780 S.W. 2d 427 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 1989). All registered motor vehicles in Texas must be inspected each year, including all cars, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds and the like. To pass inspection, the vehicle must pass a rigorous test of all of major components. The most important systems that must be inspected and maintained include:
- Brakes: A vehicle must stop within a distance of 25 feet at a speed of 20 mph.
- Lights: Must be in proper working order, including headlights and taillights, brake lights, license plate lights, parking lights, reflectors, and turn signals.
- Tires: All vehicles are required to have tires in proper and safe condition with a minimum depth of 2/32 of an inch.
Failure to maintain proper brakes, lights or tires can lead to significant injury or death. For example, our firm recently helped a family whose son was injured when the tire of the vehicle the boy was riding in had a blow out and caused the vehicle to rollover. We were able to successfully make a claim against the owner and driver of the vehicle who purchased the tires second-hand. In our claim, we alleged that the owner negligently operated the vehicle with threadbare tires.
Commercial Motor Vehicles – 18-Wheelers
The federal laws that govern 18-Wheelers and other commercial motor vehicles (like passenger buses and other heavy-duty trucks) and the companies that operate them are known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). The primary purpose of the FMCSRs are to help keep us, the motoring public, safe from the inherent risk of 18-wheelers and other large trucks. Motor carriers that own and operate these large trucks are only allowed to operate on our roads if they agree to comply with the safety rules set forth in the FMCSRs. If an 80,000 lbs. truck (the maximum weight limit of an 18-Wheeler) gets into an accident with a 4,000 lbs. passenger vehicle, the truck is going to win every single time. These federal laws are therefore designed to help ensure that catastrophic injuries and death do not occur on our roadways. Even though we have these foundational safety rules, some companies and their drivers simply choose to ignore the rules. In an effort to maximize profits and keep their drivers and trucks on the road, many trucking companies simply ignore the inspection and maintenance rules set forth in the FMCSRs.
What are the main safety rules set forth in the FMCSRs that govern inspection and maintenance of commercial vehicles like 18-Wheelers?
According to the FMCSR, found at 49 C.F.R. 393.3, trucking companies (known as motor carriers in the FMCSRs) must systematically inspect, repair, and maintain all motor vehicles subject to their control. There is no set interval in which the motor vehicles must be inspected because such intervals are fleet specific and are to be determined by the motor carrier. The term “systematic” means a regular or scheduled program to keep vehicles in a safe operating condition. A motor carrier is required to keep records for each motor vehicle under its control. The records must include (1) an identification of the vehicle; (2) a record of the nature and due date of the inspection and maintenance operations to be performed; (3) A record of inspection, repairs, and maintenance indicating their date and nature; and (4) a record of tests conducted the emergency systems on the vehicle. The records must be retained for a period of 1 year and for 6 months after the motor vehicle leaves the motor carrier’s control.
49 C.F.R. 393.7 prohibits unsafe operation of a motor vehicle and provides that a motor vehicle shall not be operated in such a condition as to likely cause an accident or a breakdown of the vehicle.
The trucking company and their drivers are required to inspect the vehicle every single day. Every motor carrier shall require its drivers to report, and every driver shall prepare a report in writing at the completion of each day’s work of their inspection of the vehicle. The following is a list of the major vehicle components
- Service brakes including trailer brake connections: Faulty breaking is a major cause of concern for 18-Wheelers and other heavy vehicles as the vehicle must be able to come to a sudden and complete stop at all times.
- Parking brake: If a parking brake fails, the vehicle can roll and hurt or kill pedestrians and other vehicle passengers.
- Steering mechanism: The inability to steer is obviously a major concern and can lead to catastrophic results.
- Tires: Tires must be maintained and in good working order at all times.
- Lighting devices and reflectors.
- Windshield wipers.
- Rear vision mirrors.
- Coupling devices.
- Wheels and rims.
- Emergency equipment.
Negligent maintenance and inspection of 18-Wheelers is a major problem on our roadways. Just how bad is the problem?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency that is in charge of enforcing the FMCSRs conduct roadside inspections. These inspections are undertaken by Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) Inspectors.
MCSAP Inspectors conduct roadside inspections on commercial motor vehicles and drivers to check that they are in compliance with the FMCSRs and the inspection and maintenance safety rules discussed above. If the driver or vehicle fails inspection, the driver will be issued a driver or vehicle Out-of-Service Order. These violations must be corrected before the driver or vehicle can return to service.
In Texas in 2017, there were 524,858 roadway inspections by the MCSAP inspectors in Texas alone. Over 20 percent of the vehicles inspected had safety violations that were of a serious nature and were ordered off the road for repair. This statistic shows the nature and extent of the problem with negligently maintained and unsafe trucks on our Texas roads and highways.
See The Texas Inspection Results
Harmonson Law Firm has formed a Rapid Response Team that will immediately travel to the scene of a serious commercial vehicle accident to gather crucial evidence. Harmonson Law Firm and the Rapid Response Team will perform a thorough investigation after a truck accident resulting in serious injuries or fatalities.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed in a truck accident, please seek help from a law firm with the experience and the money needed to pursue a truck accident investigation. Contact our truck accident attorneys in El Paso or Las Cruces for help. We accept trucking accident cases throughout Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Contact us at (915) 228-4140 for a free initial consultation.