You are currently viewing Truck Safety Federal Regulations

Truck Safety Federal Regulations

There are federal regulations in place for truck safety, but they can’t prevent tragic accidents.

Legislation related to the trucking industry is implemented and enforced by three major agencies of the U.S. Department of Transportation:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was established by the Highway Safety Act of 1970, as the successor to the National Highway Safety Bureau, to carry out safety programs under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 and the Highway Safety Act of 1966.

  • NHTSA is responsible for reducing deaths, injuries and economic losses resulting from all kinds of motor vehicle crashes, including car-truck accidents. This is accomplished by setting and enforcing safety performance standards for motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment, and through grants to state and local governments to enable them to conduct effective local highway safety programs.
  • NHTSA investigates safety defects in motor vehicles; sets and enforces fuel economy standards; helps states and local communities reduce the threat of drunk drivers; promotes the use of safety belts, child safety seats and air bags; investigates odometer fraud; establishes and enforces vehicle anti-theft regulations; and provides consumer information on motor vehicle safety topics.
  • NHTSA also conducts research on driver behavior and traffic safety in order to develop the most efficient and effective means of bringing about safety improvements

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is focused on reducing crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses specifically. In carrying out its safety mandate, the FMCSA:

  • Develops and enforces data-driven regulations for motor carriers (truck and bus companies) that balance safety with industry efficiency.
  • Harnesses safety information systems to focus on higher-risk carriers in enforcing safety regulations.
  • Targets educational messages to carriers, commercial drivers, and the public.
  • Partners with stakeholders that include federal, state, and local enforcement agencies, the motor carrier industry, safety groups, and organized labor on efforts to reduce bus and truck-related crashes.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), also an agency of the USDOT, implements and enforces the rules regarding length, width and weight of commercial motor vehicles allowed on the country’s national highway system. However, each state has additional rules for commercial trucks, and has the option to issue permits for oversize and overweight vehicles.


Truck Specifications

Federal legislation about the size and weight of big trucks attracts media attention and outspoken advocates both for and against allowing bigger, heavier trucks on the road. Here are some of the federal rules, as of 2015, that govern the size of commercial trucks. Federal requirements governing truck length apply only to the national network of interstate systems and designated highways.

Width: 8.53 feet (102 inches)

Length: Straight (self-propelled) trucks, length is determined by states Semi-trailers, 48 feet (some states have “grandfathered” higher limits)

Truck tractor-semitrailer-trailer combination, 65 feet

Height: No restriction on height

Weight: Single axle, 20,000 pounds; Tandem axle 34,000 pounds; Gross vehicle weight, 80,000 pounds.

Trucking Companies

Much of the responsibility for trucking safety falls on trucking companies that operate huge fleets and sometimes focus more on on-time delivery than on safety. Generally, trucking companies are required to:

  • Adhere to provisions of the Commercial Driver’s License Act, which requires states to adopt testing and licensing standards to keep unqualified, unsafe truck drivers off the highways.
  • Maintain driver files that contain an employment application that lists 10 years of work experience; reference checks; copy of the appropriate driver’s license; copy of the most recent motor vehicle record (including tickets and accidents); a medical certificate based on a physical conducted every two years; results of a road test signed by the test evaluator; a record of drug-testing, if required by federal or state regulation; and documentation that management has reviewed the file at least one a year.
  • Review driver logs for violations and corrective action taken, if any; maintain driver logs for at least six months.
  • Comply with federal vehicle inspection, repair and maintenance regulations, which call for systematic inspection of all vehicles under the company’s control. Federal law requires that parts and accessories be in safe and proper operating condition at all times, including parts specified in the code and any additional parts that affect safety of operation, such as frame and frame assemblies, suspension systems, axles and attaching parts, wheels and rims, and steering systems.
  • Maintain records for each vehicle under the company’s control for 30 consecutive days. Records must include identification of the vehicle (make, serial number, year, and tire size), nature and deadline for inspections and maintenance to be performed, and the results of such inspection, maintenance and repair.
  • Comply with safety standards governing systems such as speed-limiting devices, electronic onboard recorders, retroflective sheeting and effective underride guides.

Truck Drivers

The first obligation of a commercial vehicle driver is to apply for and obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL), which is issued by states in compliance with federal law. CDLs are issued in three classifications linked to the weight of the vehicle to be driven. Additional testing is required for drivers of double/triple trailers, tank vehicles, and transport of hazardous materials.

The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 makes it illegal for CDL holders to have more than one license, and requires states to adopt testing and licensing standards to assess applicants’ ability to operate the type of vehicle for which they are licensed.

RELATED: CDOT Safety Program

Another major driver responsibility is to adhere to federal hours-of-service (HOS) guidelines, which specify when and how long a driver may drive. Here are the basics of truck driver hours-of-service rules. For more detailed information, click here to access the FMCSA’s Interstate Truck Driver’s Guide to Hours of Service. Continue reading