Recordkeeping Requirements for Truckers & Motor CarriersJune 6, 2023
How & Why Records & Recordkeeping Matter in Truck Accident Claims
Federal trucking regulations are generally focused on the safety of truckers, commercial vehicles, and motor carriers to prevent accidents, injuries, and death. While those regulations cover all sorts of operations and situations, they also detail certain recordkeeping requirements.
Specifically, these requirements and records pertain to:
- Drivers’ experience and activities, with motor carriers required to check and keep certain documents to verify truckers’ qualifications and/or activities
- Commercial trucks, with truckers and/or motor carriers being required to keep records related to trucks’ inspections, equipment, and maintenance
- Motor carriers, with records related to the trucking company’s operations, the cargo hauled, truckers’ hours of service, and more.
Detailing more about these requirements and why they matter, this guide takes a deep dive into trucking recordkeeping, its role in 18-wheeler safety, and how it may come into play after a truck accident.
Federal Recordkeeping Requirements for Truckers
Truckers have several recordkeeping requirements that have been established by regulators at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Many of these rules require truck drivers to develop and maintain records related to specific hauls as a way of ensuring or verifying that:
- The trucks they drive stay safe on the roads.
- They are complying with all applicable federal trucking regulations for a given haul, certain cargo, and/or a specific type of motor vehicle.
With that, truckers are typically obligated to create and maintain the following records:
- Duty records: Federal law limits truckers’ driving time and on-duty time, both on a given day and during any particular week. The purpose of these laws, known as hours-of-service (HOS) rules, is to prevent excessive driving and trucker fatigue, which can impair drivers and contribute to wrecks. To demonstrate compliance with HOS rules, truckers are required to keep records of when they drive, their on-duty time, and their off-duty time. In the past, these records were largely kept in trucker logbooks, which could be vulnerable to falsified records. These days, more truckers and motor carriers are using electronic logs to document these records.
- Vehicle inspection and maintenance records: Detailing when big rigs have been examined, these records should also specify what equipment has been inspected, the condition of the equipment, and whether repairs were needed (or completed). When repairs or other maintenance is necessary, it should be performed promptly, with the proper documentation of what was done kept with the vehicle records. Notably, while vehicle records can reveal the nature and frequency of the maintenance completed on 18-wheelers, an absence of these records can also speak the failure to inspect and maintain commercial trucks.
- Cargo records: These documents should delineate the nature, weight, and potential hazards associated with cargo. They should also include details regarding when the cargo was picked up, who loaded and secured the cargo, and when (and where) it was dropped off. With these specifics, cargo records may highlight issues related to overloaded big rigs, cargo securement failures, and more.
With these trucker records, it’s critical to understand that:
- Digital records may exist for some items while others are only available in physical (paper) record form.
- There may be different retention requirements for different types of records. In fact, some trucking records have to be retained for years while others only need to be kept for months.
- Truckers may need to keep and carry some records, like vehicle records that need to be shown to roadside inspectors upon request.
- Trucker recordkeeping requirements can change and be updated with time, as new laws are passed. So, it’s crucial that commercial drivers stay abreast of these laws and do what’s necessary to remain fully compliant with them.
Federal Recordkeeping Requirements for Trucking Companies
Along with truck drivers, motor carriers have their own recordkeeping requirements set by federal law, with the threat of fines and/or other penalties for those who fail to abide by these rules.
Generally, motor carrier recordkeeping involves maintaining records for (but not limited to) the company’s:
- Operating authority, like:
- Documentation regarding the company’s U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) number and Motor Carrier (MC) number
- Records establishing a headquarters or principal place of business
- Proof of insurance and current vehicle registration
- Permits for handling hazardous (or other) materials (for certain cargo/carriers)
- Drivers, such as:
- Employment applications and road test certificates
- Copies of commercial driver’s licenses and medical fitness tests
- Drivers’ training records
- Drivers’ drug and alcohol test results
- Driver logs and HOS records
- Any known traffic violations drivers have incurred
- Driver accident reports and records
- Vehicles, like:
- Vehicle ownership records (if a party other than the motor carrier owns the vehicle)
- Records documenting each truck’s vehicle identification number (VIN), model, and year
- Vehicle inspection and maintenance records
Motor carriers may be required to keep more extensive records if they operate in special industries or areas; if they transport hazardous materials or specialty items; or if they have been the subject of federal investigations or penalties in the past.
How Trucking Records Can Help a Truck Wreck Claim
When it’s time to prove liability for an 18-wheeler accident, trucking records may be important evidence for establishing the negligence of truckers, motor carriers, and/or others. In fact, with trucking records — or with an absence of required trucking records — it may be possible to uncover and potentially prove:
- Trucker fatigue and HOS violations: Logbooks and electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) can show when truckers have driven for longer than they should have and, in turn, when fatigue may have contributed to a big rig accident. Keep in mind that these records could also reveal other violations and problems, like attempts to falsify records to try to get around HOS rules. Deleted data could be a warning sign of this, and data recovery experts could help uncover more in these cases.
- Truck inspection and/or maintenance failures: These records can shine a light on the condition of essential truck equipment, from the tires and brakes to the lights, the electrical system, the reflectors, the hitch, and more. With these details, failures to repair or maintain trucks can come to light. So can potential equipment defects.
- Unqualified or risky truck drivers: This could involve a lack of credentials or records, showing a trucker to be unfit to operate a commercial vehicle. It could also include failed drug tests, a history of causing accidents, or a lack of essential truck driver training.
- Rule-bending motor carriers: Trucking companies’ policies and scheduling may compel truckers to violate the law or operate in a risky manner on the roads. This could show up in haphazard recordkeeping, overscheduling truckers, or encouraging them to falsify records.
- Other violations of federal trucking regulations: Digital and paper records could reveal other ways in which trucking companies, their drivers, and/or other employees have failed to abide by federal trucking regulations.
When it’s time to start tracking down and analyzing trucking records of any kind, it’s time to contact a truck accident lawyer. An experienced 18-wheeler wreck attorney will usually know what records to look for, based on the details of a crash, as well as where to find them, how to interpret them, and the best ways to leverage them for a victim’s claim.