Commercial truck drivers work long hours under physically and mentally difficult circumstances. While state and federal law is in place to regulate the industry and optimize driver safety and the safety of everyone they share the roads with, there are some glaring exemptions, loopholes if you will, that had a direct impact on a case I was recently involved in.
In the aforementioned commercial trucking trial, a 24-foot box truck struck my client by turning left in front of him one early morning. While the fact that this driver was clearly at fault is not in doubt, what may have created a greater likelihood for it to happen was not so clear… until you examine Oregon motor carrier law and see some dangerous exemptions for a long list of provisions.
Ensuring drivers get enough rest is a critical component of truck safety. According to Oregon law, if a driver is operating a vehicle with a combined weight of 26,000 pounds or less, they are exempt from 15 provisions in motor carrier law. Let’s take a look at some of the more impactful exemptions, at least from the perspective of a plaintiff in a commercial truck accident case:
ORS 825.160: Most truck drivers are required to have a policy of public liability and property damage insurance. But if their vehicle is less than 26,000 pounds, they don’t have to worry about it.
ORS 825.450: The driver doesn’t have to follow this provision that restricts drivers from loading their truck beyond a weight permit rating.
ORS 825.515: The truck driver does not have to keep daily or monthly reports, which are on forms prescribed by the Department of Transportation. In heavier vehicles, the driver keeps these logs to record their hours of service and to ensure they working within the confines of the legal time limits they can be one the road. All vehicles that weigh under 26,000 pounds don’t have to stop at weigh stations.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation significantly reduced the number of hours a truck driver could work in an eight day period — it was dropped from 82 hours to 70 hours. While the federal government defines the type of vehicle that must comply to this regulation as one that weighs 10,001 pounds or more, states have the right to make exemptions for vehicles that do not exceed the 26,000 pound mark.
Are motor carrier exemptions that affect road safety okay, when the truck in question is only hauling 15,000 pounds of cargo? Do they need to have less oversight in regards to hours spent on the road? While there may be differences between a 26,000-pound and 15,000-pound truck, both are heavy loads with high damage potential (to person and property).