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Written by: J. Todd Tenge

The Darker Side of Trucking – Part 1

| Read Time: 4 minutes

Boulder County saw 6,499 crashes in 2016, and the Colorado Department of Transportation warns that our state in on an uphill trend. Though the National Safety Council celebrated a nationwide drop in traffic fatalities in 2017, in Colorado, 642 people died—the highest number since 2004. Experts blame the economy: people began driving more. That same booming economy is producing another serious danger on our roads: more heavy commercial vehicles.

And more trucks mean wrecks will be worse when they do happen.

In this two-part blog series, Tenge Law Firm, LLC, will demystify some facts about the trucking industry. If you were involved in a collision with a tractor-trailer in central Colorado, our advice is to call a Boulder truck accident lawyer as soon as possible. A multi-billion-dollar industry is at work here, and they do not take kindly to paying any of their profits to accident victims—even when they’re to blame.

National Trucking Statistics

In 2016, when someone was killed in a large truck collision in the United States, 97% of the fatalities were people in passenger vehicles. The majority of these crashes took place on weekdays, and tended to occur on rural roads (61%) and interstate highways (27%)—sometimes on rural interstate highways (15%). Head-on collision accounted for 62% of passenger vehicle deaths; rear-end collisions for 15%; and side impacts for 21%.

Besides fatalities, over 180,000 people suffered injuries in these large truck crashes. A “large truck” is one with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds, even if it’s not carrying that much weight at the time of the accident. (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration 2016 Large Truck Crash Data)

Over 6% of the truck drivers involved in fatal crashes didn’t have a valid license for the type of commercial motor vehicle they were driving. Needless to say, these men and women should never have been behind the wheel. Commercial vehicles are too massive and unwieldy to be driven by an amateur—or anyone not paying close attention.

What Is a Commercial Motor Vehicle?

A “large truck” and a “commercial motor vehicle” are mostly synonymous. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a commercial motor vehicle is used in highway or interstate commerce to transport property and weighs at least 10,001 pounds. Vehicles designed to transport eight or more people for profit, or 15 or more passengers for profit or nonprofit, also qualify. Trucks that transport hazardous materials in a certain quantity are automatically considered commercial motor vehicles and must carry placards stating that they’re carrying hazardous materials.

Commercial motor vehicles are classified based on their Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), and these classes range from 1 to 8. The gross weight is derived from the combination of the cab and its towed units (at capacity). One type would be tank vehicles, which are designed to transport liquid or gas in containers capable of holding more than 119 gallons each, or inside a permanent or temporary tank affixed to the vehicle that can hold 1,000 gallons or more. When transporting empty containers, however, the truck is no longer considered a “tanker.”

But when most people talk about commercial motor vehicles, they’re almost always talking about heavy-duty Class 7 or above vehicles: the tractor-trailers, big rigs, semi-trucks, 18-wheelers. These vehicles have a weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, and require a driver with a Class A commercial driver’s license.

How Does a Driver Qualify for a Commercial Driver’s License?

While FMCSA sets many rules for the trucking industry, it leaves the individual licensing of truckers up to each state—though it does require a medical examination for every applicant. In addition, FMCSA requires drivers to self-certify as interstate or intrastate drivers.

All applicants must complete a knowledge test, answering at least 80% of the questions correctly. Applicants must also complete a skills test in a vehicle similar to the type of vehicle they expect to operate (the skills test may not be required for military veterans with heavy-duty driving experience).

In Colorado, getting a commercial driver’s license requires at least:

  • A valid driver’s license or commercial permit
  • The driver’s Social Security Number
  • The driver’s Department of Transportation medical card (current)
  • A drive skills test form, submitted within 60 days of completing the test
  • A fee of $15.50 ($16.18 for an instruction permit)

When the Colorado DMV begins a driver’s application, it will check the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS) and the National Driver Registry (NDR) for disqualifications. If the trucker has another active CDL, he must surrender it before being licensed in Colorado: it’s illegal to have a license from more than one state at a time. In Colorado, CDLs are valid for four years, and a trucker with a Class A commercial driver’s license will be able to drive any vehicle below his class, including cars.

There are also endorsements (when a driver can handle special types of vehicles) and restrictions (when a driver cannot handle certain vehicles) on CDLs. Endorsements are required before a trucker can drive:

  • double or triple trailers
  • hazardous materials
  • a tank truck
  • a tanker with hazardous materials
  • a passenger vehicle
  • a school bus

No driver can have more than three endorsements on his CDL. On the flipside, restrictions may indicate a driver cannot operate a manual transmission, cannot use a vehicle with a fifth wheel connection, or has failed an air brakes knowledge test. A “V” restriction means the driver has a medical variance—a waiver allowing him to drive with a health condition.

This is a serious restriction; one we will explore in our follow-up blog, along with ongoing conditions to keep a CDL, and how truckers often violate the rules intended to keep other drivers safe.

After a Truck Accident in Central Colorado, an Attorney Can Protect You

Passenger car occupants in a big rig crash often suffer terrible injuries. Tenge Law Firm, LLC, has seen orthopedic, burn, spinal, and brain injuries leading to extended hospital stays. We’ve also seen victims lose their income, and be unable to go back to work.

But asking a trucking company’s insurer for compensation is nothing like dealing with a private insurer. Commercial vehicles have much larger policies—in the millions of dollars—and they are protective of them. We believe no one should have to face a trucking company alone, and we provide strong, knowledgeable representation in this arena. For a free consultation with our team, please call (303) 665-2929. We have offices in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins.

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