Every state has a set of traffic laws and regulations. These rules are essential to follow considering the millions of traffic collisions that occur each year in the United States alone. Traffic laws, though frustrating at times, are intended to keep everyone safe—from the drivers, to the passengers, to the pedestrians. In order to uphold these laws, drivers who neglect to follow these regulations will be penalized, which will ideally prevent future dangerous accidents from occurring. In 2015 across America, there were approximately 138,000 people injured and 4,337 fatalities involving large trucks or buses. Thus, it is especially important that truck and commercial drivers be aware of these laws in order to ensure the safety of other drivers as well as to understand how any violations may impede their own ability to drive. Read more from the national truck accident lawyers at the Reiff Law Firm.
What Are Considered Serious Traffic Violations for Truck Drivers?
People are pulled over everyday for traffic violations, some of the most common being speeding or failure to stop at a red light. However, there are certain violations deemed “serious” by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA was established in 2000 in order to execute the objectives of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act passed by Congress in 1999. It is an organization that oversees the trucking industry with the primary goal of preventing commercial vehicle injuries and fatalities. Over the years, the FMCSA has developed and enforced regulations that allow for maximum safety and efficiency for truck and bus companies, as well as other drivers. As of now, the FMCSA officially recognizes 12 serious traffic violations that ultimately aid in the accountability of commercial drivers and promote road safety.
There can also be other situations in which a driver commits a different serious offense, such as excessing speeding, driving under the influence, or texting while driving that can lead to reckless driving, in which case the driver can be convicted of both crimes at once and face more repercussions. If a motorist causes serious bodily injury to another due to reckless driving, then the motorist may be convicted of aggravated assault by vehicle, facing a prison sentence of up to 7 years, up to $15,000 in fines and a one-year license suspension.
Under the Federal Motor Safety Improvement Act, excess speeding entails driving a limit of 15mph or more above the posted speed limit. This regulation is relevant to both commercial and personal vehicles, yet the law stipulates that it only applies to personal vehicles if the violation was in a work or school zone.
Local authorities on highways will determine whether or not a grade is hazardous from an engineering perspective. If the grade is hazardous, commercial vehicles or tractor-trailers may be further restricted in the speed at which they can drive or might have to come to a complete stop before proceeding downhill, especially if the vehicle is of a weight above the established safe weight. Any violation of these regulations will result in a serious traffic offense.
Pennsylvania law recognizes reckless driving as a deliberate disregard for the safety of people or property. Like excess speeding, reckless driving is applicable to personal vehicles as well as commercial vehicles. This offense is fundamentally a crime of intent; not only is the driver operating without the proper care resulting in a high probability of causing damage, it must also be true that the driver is aware of this risk and ignores it. A couple of examples of reckless driving that have held in court include if the driver was continually running red lights or stop signs, failing to yield to the right-of-way to other cars, or racing other cars, among others. Reckless driving is considered a “summary offense”, and a conviction may result in up to 90 days in jail, a minimum of a $200 fine and will have your license suspended for 6 months.
Improper or Reckless Lane Changes
Large trucks or buses have large blind spots that make it more difficult to successfully change lanes. When operating a commercial vehicle, it is vital that the driver take extra precaution to ensure it is safe. An improper lane change may constitute a situation in which a driver failed to put on the turn signal, not warning other vehicles that they would be switching lanes. Additional offenses of this category include overtaking a vehicle on the left or the right, passing in a no-passing zone, or driving on roadways designated for traffic.
Following a Vehicle Too Closely
A commercial vehicle including a large truck or bus will need a significantly greater distance to come to a complete stop than a standard private vehicle. According to the Large Truck Crash Causation Study, 5% of all truck crashes occur when the driver of a commercial vehicle is tailgating the vehicle ahead. Assuming braking distance is not altered by weather conditions, a loaded tractor-trailer driving 55 mph would need 196 feet to come to a completed stop, whereas a personal vehicle would need only 133 feet. If the driver of a commercial vehicle is following too closely, it is regarded as a serious offense as it seriously threatens the safety of themselves and others.
Duty of Driver in Construction and Maintenance Areas or on Highway Safety Corridors
In Pennsylvania law, a commercial vehicle that does not yield the right of way in a construction zone or fail to respond to warning signs or flashing lights may be convicted of a serious traffic offense. Furthermore, there are a plethora of traffic violations such as failure to obey to authorized traffic directors and so on, that if committed in an active work zone with official signs will result in double the fine.
Violating State/Local Law in Connection with a Fatal Accident
If a commercial vehicle engages in careless driving—usually a summary offense—that results in an unintentional fatal car accident, this will result in a $500 fine and fall under the classification of a serious traffic offense. This statute of Pennsylvania law, like excessive speeding and driving recklessly, includes personal vehicles as well as commercial vehicles.
Driving a Commercial Vehicle without Obtaining a CDL
A commercial drivers license is required before the operation of a commercial vehicle for a reason. Not only does it require more skill, specialized knowledge and training, but there are other medical and residential requirements as well. In order to obtain a CDL, one must first obtain a permit and practice on public roads in the company of a qualified CDL holder. If you are convicted of driving a commercial vehicle without a CDL, it is a serious traffic offense and may prevent you from being able to obtain a CDL in the future.
Driving a Commercial Vehicle without a CDL in the Driver’s Possession
It is common knowledge that one must carry their license on them at all times while operating a vehicle. For commercial drivers, this is imperative, as they are tasked with a greater responsibility on the road. Failure to have a CDL in possession while operating a commercial vehicle is in violation to the regulations set by the FMCSA.
Driving a Commercial Vehicle without the Proper Class of CDL and/or Endorsements
There are three classes of licenses for commercial vehicles that are unique and must correspond to the vehicle in operation. Having one kind of commercial license does not entail that you are free to drive all commercial vehicles and may result in a conviction of a serious traffic offense. With a Class C license, you are limited to operating single vehicles of 26,000 lbs or less, or any combination of vehicles, excluding motorcycles, not heavy enough to require a Class A or Class B license. A Class B license extends these limitations so that you can operate any single vehicle above 26,000 lbs. This means that with a Class B license, you can operate commercial vehicles that would otherwise require a Class C license. Finally, with a Class A license, you are able to operate all vehicles under Class B and Class C, as well as any combination of vehicles above 26,000 lbs, if the vehicle(s) being towed weigh more than 10,000 lbs.
Texting and Driving
Literature has established the correlation between texting and driving and car accidents. According to the National Safety Council, using a cell-phone while driving results in 1.6 million traffic accidents per year. Furthermore, texting and driving is six times more likely to lead to a collision than drunk driving. Commercial drivers must be extra observant and focused while driving, in order to have enough time to react to a variety of situations that may happen on the road. If commercial drivers are typing on their phone while driving, there is an even greater possibility of a disastrous texting and driving car accident.
Use of Hand-Held Mobile Telephone
The final serious offense is the use of a phone for any purpose other than texting, including accepting and making phone calls. Phone calls can be just as distracting as texting, and can result in devastating consequences. One exception to this rule is if the call is necessary to communicate with law enforcement officials or in the case of an emergency.
Traffic Violation Penalties for Truck Drivers
It is imperative that operators of commercial vehicles be aware of the laws and regulations in order to protect the safety of themselves as well as others. Any serious traffic violation will have consequences, including fines, or disqualification, license suspension, or even jail time, depending on the damage caused and other details of the situation. Disqualification is different from suspension in that if you may still operate a personal vehicle if disqualified, whereas suspension prevents you from operating any vehicle until it is lifted. If you are convicted of 2 serious traffic offenses within a 3 year period, you will be disqualified from operating a CMV for 60 days. If you are convicted of 3 serious traffic offenses within a 3 year period, the disqualification will extend to 120 days.
Contact a Pennsylvania Truck Accident Lawyer Today
Truck accidents are complicated, and sometimes proving a serious offense in court is difficult. If you were involved in an accident, our truck accident lawyers are here to help. Call the Reiff Law Firm for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation at 215-709-6940 or contact us online and we will get back to you as soon as possible.