Pull Over!: Commercial Vehicles Required to Not Drive in Unsafe Conditions

Car accident claims often hinge on whether or not the defendant owed a duty to the injured party. If a duty was owed, it was breached, and the breach caused an injury, liability for negligence exists. However, if there was no duty, the claim is cut off.

The important question is then, when does a duty exist? Generally speaking, people and entities have a duty to act reasonably in every particular circumstance. Reasonableness can be difficult to define and it often depends on the relationship between the parties. For example, a taxi cab driver may have a duty to exercise more care in driving their fares than someone dropping a friend off at work. Sometimes state or federal laws and regulations help to define when a duty exists. If a party has violated a legally defined duty, bringing a successful negligence claim against them may be easier.

One such instance of a legally defined duty applies to those that operate commercial vehicles. According to Regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “extreme caution” must be taken when commercial vehicle drivers find themselves in treacherous road conditions.

A driver must apply extreme caution when weather such as rain, snow, ice, or fog; or other conditions such as smoke or smog affect the ability for a driver to see and keep traction of their vehicle. Rule:§392.14. In exercising such caution drivers of commercial vehicles must lower their speed or discontinue driving until the conditions pass should they become so serious that the affect the ability of the driver to drive safely.

The federal government requires that commercial drivers be very careful if their visibility or traction is affected negatively by weather or other adverse road conditions. Commercial drivers must slow down, and if the conditions are bad enough they must pull off the road and not drive until it is safe.

Because of this rule it would be easier to prove liability if a commercial driver does not use extreme condition as required. As an example, if the driver of a big rig were to decide not to pull over during a rain and hail storm and then started to hydroplane, causing an accident where another driver was killed, the survivors of the deceased driver would very likely be able to collect damages in a lawsuit against the big rig driver and/or his employer. The duty element of a negligence claim would already be established. As such, at the very least, the defendant driver would need to explain why he did not pull over and why his decision to not pull over qualified as “extreme caution” as required by the law.

Commercial drivers also have “black boxes” on their vehicles that can be useful when your lawyer questions the actions of a negligent drive.  This black box will provide information such as whether or not the vehicle was being operated at a time when the conditions are such that it should not be on the road.

If you have been injured or a loved one was killed in a car accident it is the job of your attorney to have enough experience and knowledge of the law to know when such regulations exist and will be helpful.