Articles Posted in Blog

Vehicle Lighting and Illumination Requirements

All vehicles are required to use headlights from a half-hour after sunset until a half-hour before sunrise, when it is raining, and “at any other time when there is not sufficient visibility to render clearly discernible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of 500 feet ahead.” Notice the unusual requirement that headlights be used until a half-hour before sunrise. It is difficult to understand why the General Assembly determined headlights are no longer required just before the sun rises, but so the law says. Formerly, the law required use of headlights until one hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise.  In any event, it has long been held that violation of the statute is negligence per se.

The FMCSRs provide additional requirements for headlights and many other lamps on CMVs and such regulations will certainly pre-empt conflicting state requirements which purport to impose less stringent requirements.

Speeding, Driving Too Fast for Conditions, Impeding Traffic Flow, and Speed in Work Zones

The General Assembly has both codified specific speed limits and also enacted catch-all restrictions on speed that are based on prevailing conditions like weather, obstructions, traffic, and so forth.

All motorists are prohibited from driving “at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard for the actual and potential hazards then existing.” The statute gives as examples the approach and crossing of an intersection or railroad crossing, the approaching and traversing of a curve or hill crest, travel upon a “narrow or winding roadway,” or when special hazards exist due to the presence of pedestrians, other traffic, or by reason of weather or highway conditions. Violation of the statute may constitute negligence per se. The fact a driver is traveling within the posted speed limit does not preclude liability under this code section.

Following Too Closely

This code section prohibits following another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway. Subsection (b) is important in the context of CMVs. It requires a vehicle towing another vehicle upon a roadway outside a business or residential district, and which is following another vehicle, to leave enough space to permit an “overtaking” vehicle to enter and occupy the space in between. The same rule is applied to vehicles traveling in a “caravan” or motorcade, except for funeral processions and vehicles under the supervision of law enforcement. A CMV driver’s second conviction for following too closely in a three year period will result in a 60 day disqualification from the operation of a CMV. Thus, this Rule of the Road is important is assessing a motor carrier’s liability, should it continue to allow a driver with more than one conviction over that time period to drive a CMV.

Under Georgia law, a guilty plea for this or any moving violation of state law, if left unrebutted by the defendant, is a conclusive admission of guilt that can be used in a civil case. To rebut the presumption that he or she was following too closely, the driver must present sufficient competent evidence that they were following at a reasonable and prudent distance and were traveling at a speed that was reasonable and prudent given the traffic ahead, the speed of the traffic, and the condition of the highway.  Mere statements by the driver that the accident “happened so fast,” that he was not following too closely, and that he did not feel he was guilty of violating the statute are insufficient proof to rebut the admission created by his guilty plea.Significantly, if a defendant fails to rebut the presumed admission of negligence per se created by a guilty plea and the plaintiff has otherwise proven that the violation was a proximate cause of the collision and injury, it is error for the trial court to deny a plaintiff’s motion for directed verdict on the issue of the defendant’s negligence.

Driving Without Securing A Load

No motor vehicle may carry a load that is not adequately secured to prevent it from falling off or shifting onto the roadway such as to create a safety hazard.  This rule could be used in conjunction with the FMCSR where a load problem causes an accident.  However, this code section is specifically limited to operating a vehicle without adequately securing a load, and would not be the basis of a claim against a shipper who loads a truck but does not operate it.


Use of Radios, Mobile Telephones, and Wireless Devices

Operation on Multi-lane Highways

Trucks (defined for the purposes of this Rule of the Road as all vehicles with over six wheels other than buses and motorcoaches) are prohibited from operating in the left lane on highways with three or more lanes traveling in the same direction unless they are preparing for a left turn. On highways of two lanes traveling in the same direction, trucks may only operate in the left lane if actually overtaking and passing another vehicle or preparing for a left turn. On interstate highways with four or more lanes traveling in the same direction, the Georgia Department of Transportation may designate specific lanes that trucks may or may not use by erecting proper signage. The manner in which regulation incrementally restricts a truck’s use of Georgia roadways dependent on the available number of lanes is worth noting for a few reasons. It may even be helpful to read the statute accordingly.

Georgia CMV trucking regultionsThe Rule Of Two Lanes

Negligence Per Se and the Standard of Care

The Georgia General Assembly has codified certain minimum standards for the operation of motor vehicles on Georgia public roadways, including CMVs. A violation of a “Rule of the Road” constitutes negligence per se, so long as traditional elements such as proximate cause are also present. Further, the Rules of the Road apply to parking lots, shopping centers, and other similar areas which, although privately owned, are customarily used as a through streets or connector streets. Other provisions of the O.C.G.A. may make the Rules of the Road applicable to other private or common areas; therefore, when it appears a wreck has occurred in such an area, a review of the relevant statute may be necessary. In the context of a motor carrier, it is important to note that the general rule is that a federal safety regulation will not pre-empt a conflicting state or local safety regulation. Therefore, while it is unlikely that the Georgia ROR would create an impossible conflict with the FMCSR, but this possibility must be kept in mind.

CMV Driver: Ordinary Care Or Diligence

Combination Vehicles, Tankers, Hazardous Materials, and School Buses

While less uncommon than those involving 18-wheelers, cases involving combination vehicles with more than one trailer, tankers, or school buses do arise. These vehicles are often heavier and longer than a typical vehicle, and in the case of tankers, frequently contain hazardous materials, i.e., gasoline. Sections 6-10 address some of the more significant considerations involved in operating these types of vehicles, such as the “crack the whip” effect of a vehicle with a trailer (more pronounced in multi-trailer combinations) (See Sections 6.1.2, 7.1.2) and techniques for avoiding accidents and injuries. (See e.g., Sections 9.7.4, 10.1, 10.2). Again, useful diagrams are given to illustrate many aspects of combination vehicle problems, such as jackknifing. (Section 6.1.5, Figure 6.2)

Sections 6 and 7 include step-by-step instruction on the proper procedures for coupling and uncoupling various combinations. (See Sections 6.4 and 7.2). The Manual also makes the point that two and three-trailer combinations become increasingly subject to instability and overturn. (Section 7.1) Section 7 also details additional air brake checks needed when pulling multiple trailers. (Section 7.4).

The Trip Lease Exemption: OverviewCMV regulations

Motor carriers routinely swap out leased equipment. This is an economical way to keep loaded trucks on the road and therefore on a faster track for delivery. For example, an O/O may be under lease to motor carrier A, which does not have a load for him to take home after he finishes his delivery for it. The O/O may learn that motor carrier B has a load it needs to be delivered in the direction the O/O will be traveling to return home from dropping off the load for A. With the permission of A, the O/O may be able to temporarily lease its power unit to B, and a “trip lease” is born. But suppose the O/O causes a crash while pulling B’s load? Arguably, this situation is addressed by the regulations.

The Trip Lease (a/k/a The Sublease)

Lease and Interchange

The lease of CMVs, primarily the tractors or “power units,” constitute a significant aspect of many if not most trucking-related personal injury claims. Abuses in the trucking industry in the 1950’s, such as motor carriers that leased or hired “gypsy” independent contractor drivers, who owned their own tractors but lacked operating authority, insurance, assets, or safe operation practices, led Congress to regulate the trucking industry. Part of the regulations sought to address the problems created by uninsured owner-operators, or “O/Os.” These problems typically arose when a motor carrier used an O/O that caused an accident and thereafter disclaimed responsibility under the argument that the O/O was an independent contractor.

In an effort to clean up the mess generated by this abused system, leases of equipment were regulated and responsibility was shifted to the entity whose operating authority moved the freight, regardless of whom was dispatched to carry out the task. Thus came into being the “statutory employee,” which would be treated as an independent contractor in practically any other business. In a peculiar example of poetic justice, and as a result of the lease regulations, motor carriers have been held liable in some instances for the acts of statutory employees in situations where they would not face liability for their own employee’s actions because the conduct at issue was so clearly outside the scope of employment.

Recordkeeping: Overview

Part 390 contains a set of requirements for recordkeeping that may provide a roadmap to potential discovery, as well as a spoliation argument should the motor carrier be found to have destroyed the records. The recordkeeping requirements apply to the entire subchapter, which encompasses all the FMCSRs.


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