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Improving Commercial Vehicle Safety Through Licensing

Most of us are too familiar with the uncomfortable feeling of our car shuddering around us as a semi-truck barrels past on the freeway. Even the largest SUV can feel like a tin can when measured up against an 18-wheeler. Therefore, it’s hard to not feel concern when sharing the road with such large and powerful vehicles. Understandably so, as in 2009 alone the U.S. Department of Transportation reported about 124,000 large trucks and buses were involved in crashes. Nearly 50,000 of those crashes involved injuries, and about 3500 were fatal. Knowing the inherent potential for danger, city and state governments have taken steps to make the roads safer for passenger and commercial vehicles alike. The first step, of course, is ensuring that the persons driving these large commercial trucks are competent to be behind the wheel.

In years past, individual states created their own laws for licensing commercial vehicle drivers. In some states, no testing, skill set, or special licensing to operate a commercial vehicle was required at all. However, in 1986 the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act was signed into law. While the Act did recognize individual state’s rights to issue driver’s license, it required every state to adopt minimum standards in issuing Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). The establishment of minimum certifications and skills for commercial truck drivers is particularly important, as a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has shown, “Drivers of large trucks and other vehicles involved in truck crashes are ten times more likely to be the cause of the crash than other factors, such as weather, road conditions and vehicle performance.”

Some important standards set by the Act include:

All drivers of certain commercial motor vehicles are required to have a commercial driver’s license. The type of CDL license required is categorized by the type of vehicle driven (Class A, Class B and Class C), and may be subject to special endorsements and restrictions for more specialized vehicles.

States must establish and assign to CDL applicants a knowledge-and-skills-set test that meets federal standards. Drivers must pass these tests with a minimum score to achieve a CDL. Tests given must relate to the class of CDL sought, with additional tests given to obtain endorsements to drive special commercial vehicles, such as double trailers, passenger or school buses, and hazardous material carriers. In some cases, applicants who meet a set of requirements, such as a good driving record, may be given an exemption by the state from taking a skills test.

Additionally, states are required to perform driving record checks on the applicant driver in any areas he or she was previously licensed for the past ten years. As drivers are only allowed to carry a license from one jurisdiction at a time, the state must require a driver to surrender any other state’s license before providing a new one.

These requirements are just some of the many established by the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act in seeking to standardize safety nationwide. And just as motor traffic continues to grow and evolve, so does the Act, with additional requirements going into place for states in 2012. Though these requirements and restrictions have not eliminated accidents involving commercial motor vehicles, it helps to minimize our overall risk. However, if you have been in an accident involving a commercial vehicle you believe failed to maintain required licensing or mechanical standards, contact an Illinois personal injury lawyer who can assist you.

About the Author: Brooke Haley marketing associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation lawyer that practice in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers’ Compensation, and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts within the State of Illinois. For more information, please visit http://www.millonpeskin.com.

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