Keep on Trucking

It just might be illegal- Obligations of semis an other Commercial Vehicles in extreme weather conditions. With the recent severe weather we have been having, Iowans have seen a significant increase in the number of Semi truck accidents throughout the Des Moines metropolitan area as well as statewide. While the conditions alone can make driving perilous during winter storms, the presence of semis and other big commercial carriers can make the roads all the more dangerous. This has been illustrated by the numerous crashes involving at least one semi over the past month in the Des Moines area alone. For example, on January 7th, two semis collided on Interstate 80 although fortunately no one was killed. Everyone was not as fortunate when, on January 11th, tragedy struck when a man was killed after a semi lost control and stopped in the median resulting in a crash with an oncoming motorist. These accidents along with many others, highlight the dangerous combination of semis and poor road conditions. Semis, while integral to interstate commerce in general, pose a greater danger to other drivers given their sheer size and weight. Also, if a truck driver begins to lose control of his or her vehicle in wintry conditions, the likelihood of regaining control without an accident is much lower than in a regular passenger car. Lastly, injuries in collision with semis are often much more severe and often result in serious injuries, if not fatalities. Given these inherent dangers then, Iowans often ask if semi trucks are held to a higher standard or have certain rules they must follow in addition to their regular rules of the road, especially in treacherous weather conditions. The answer, in fact, is yes. The federal government regulates the safe operation of commercial vehicles. In addition, to applicable state laws, a semi truck must also comply with all federal rules and regulations to ensure the safety of fellow drivers. In particular, Federal Motor Carrier Regulation § 392.14 regulates the operation of commercial vehicles in during hazardous road conditions. That federal law provides: Driving of vehicles §392.14 Hazardous conditions; extreme caution. Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated. Whenever compliance with the foregoing provisions of this rule increases hazard to passengers, the commercial motor vehicle may be operated to the nearest point at which the safety of passengers is assured. As you are likely aware, motorists are required to operate their vehicle in a manner in which they do not unreasonably endanger others. Correspondingly, if another motorist is negligent in the operation of his vehicle and you are injured as a result, that motorist, or more likely his insurance, will be responsible for paying for any injuries and damages you have incurred as a result of that negligence. Negligence can be proven either by a person operating their vehicle in a manner inconsistent with what an ordinary, reasonable and prudent person would do, but also by a violation of the law, commonly referred to as the "rules of the road." As is set forth in the federal regulation above, truck drivers are required to stop operation of their vehicles in circumstances where the weather or road conditions become sufficiently dangerous. This is an obligation that is placed upon them by federal law in addition to those that otherwise govern the operation of motor vehicles. Accordingly, even if a truck driver is doing everything else right, the mere fact that he continues to drive during a snow storm may be a violation of the law. Therefore, the mere fact that a semi continues down the interstate on a snowy day may in and of itself make a trucking company liable for injuries sustained in an accident with their vehicle. So if you have ever wondered: "What in the world was that semi doing on the road in those conditions?" The answer may well have been, breaking the law.