Commercial Trucks, Even Small Ones, Have More Responsibility in Accidents

Some small businesses in Georgia believe that if their drivers don’t have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and they only do intrastate business that the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Regulations do not apply.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Under Georgia law, any vehicle being used for commercial purposes and weighing over 10,000 pounds, regardless of whether the driver has a CDL or not, must follow strict regulations.

Georgia Regulations (Federal Motor Safety Carrier Regulations)

Georgia has extremely strict regulations that include short-haul drivers whether or not they have a CDL or not. They include:

  1. The drivers must take a yearly DOT physical examination.
  2. Drivers cannot use radar detectors
  3. Drivers must do a pre and post-trip safety inspection of their vehicle
  4. There must be an annual safety inspection of all commercial vehicles
  5. The drivers must not stay on duty beyond the hours of service limitations and have time records.

Georgia Commercial Vehicle 150 Mile Radius Non-CDL Driver Rule

For Georgia drivers of commercial motor vehicles that carry property and who stay within a 150 air-mile radius and aren’t required to have a CDL, there is an exception to recorded duty log and 14- hour rules. The exception includes:

  1. Drivers can extend the 14-hour period by 2 hours twice per week and can maintain time records instead of logs.
  2. Non-CDL drivers include drivers who operate a commercial motor vehicle that carries property and weigh more than 10,001 pounds but less than 26,000 pounds.
  3. The driver operates the commercial motor vehicle within a 150 air-mile radius of the location where the driver reports to and is released from work
  4. The driver returns to the normal work reporting location at the end of each duty tour
  5. The driver doesn’t drive after the 14th hour after coming on duty on 5 days of any period of 7 consecutive days, or after the 16th hour after coming on duty on 2 days of any period of 7 consecutive days
  6. The motor carrier that employs the driver, maintains accurate records for 6 months showing the time each driver reports for duty each day, the total number of hours each driver is on duty each day, and the time each driver is released from duty each day, and the total time for the preceding 7 days for drivers used for the first time or intermittently.

Georgia Commercial Driver’s License Requirements

The main difference between a commercial motor vehicle driver with a CDL and a non-CDL driver are the requirements in Georgia to obtain a CDL license.

There are 3 classes of CDL that Georgia recognizes: A, B. and C. A and B licenses allow drivers to operate vehicles that weigh more than 26,001 pounds.  However, the Class A license is for vehicles that are towing trailers weighing more than 10,000 pounds. A Class B license is for trailers under 10,000 pounds.  Class C licenses allow drivers to transport hazardous materials or at least 16 people.

To obtain a CDL license in Georgia the driver must be 18 years or older and have a current Georgia driver’s license. They will also have to pass an eye test and physical. If the driver is going to be transporting hazardous materials, they must be at least 21 years old.

There are two tests for a Class A and B license. There’s a knowledge test based on the Georgia CDL manual, and a road skills test.  Separate tests and endorsements are required if the driver is going to be transporting hazardous materials.

Insurance Needs in Georgia for Non-CDL Businesses

Georgia doesn’t have a requirement for non-CDL businesses other than the state-required liability insurance on their vehicles. However, it would be extremely prudent to protect you and your Georgia business with a commercial liability insurance policy that will cover you from liability and protects the cargo that is being transported.

If one of your non-CDL drivers is involved in an accident while driving a company vehicle and the victim of the accident sues, they most likely will make one or more of the following arguments for holding you liable for the accident:

  1. Respondent Superior
  2. Negligent Hiring or Retention
  3. Negligent Maintenance of a Vehicle

Respondent Superior in Georgia

In Georgia, if your employee was found to be at fault of an accident and/or incident while they were acting within the scope of employment, you may be held liable for the damages that arise out of said accident/incident.

Depending on good commercial vehicle insurance to cover any damages as a result of a commercial truck accident in Atlanta may be your most viable option because accidents can and do happen while your employee is acting within the scope of their employment.

You could lose if your employee was at least partially at fault in the accident and your employee was acting in the scope of their job at the time of the accident. To assist in protecting yourself you should establish clear policies on the use of your company vehicles by your employees and enforce these policies with disciplinary action if necessary.  In addition, always carry adequate insurance.

Negligent Hiring and/or Retention

The theory in Georgia regarding negligent hiring and/or retention claim as they relate to a commercial vehicle accident involving one of your employees is that you were remiss in the hiring of, or not firing the employee who caused the accident.

You could be sued under the theory of negligent hiring or retention theory for any incident involving your employee, not just motor vehicle accidents.  To avoid this, it’s important that you perform a thorough background check on any employee you consider hiring.

To help protect yourself you should conduct strict hiring checks and terminate any employee who should be terminated. You should also do periodic performance reviews and deal with any problems in a timely manner.

To help protect yourself you should insist on proof of driving licenses and keep that proof on file. Suspend and/or revoke vehicle use by any employee who commits a serious driving offense. You may also want to provide adequate driver training.

Negligent Maintenance of a Vehicle

In Georgia, if the condition of your company’s vehicle caused it to be unsafe to drive and that condition contributed to the accident, you could be held liable for the damages resulting from the accident.

Unlike some of the other reasons you could be held liable, if it’s alleged that your negligent maintenance of a vehicle cause damages in an accident, you could be sued by both your employee and anyone the employee injured with your vehicle.

To help protect yourself you should maintain your vehicles better than safety standards require, and have a mechanic check your vehicles periodically.

If your company vehicle was involved in an accident, the victim’s attorney may sue you for negligent maintenance of a vehicle and will likely argue negligence per se.

The argument will involve the attorney for the victim showing that the condition of your vehicle made it unlawful to be driving at the time. You should be aware that if the attorney is able to show that you were negligent in maintaining your vehicle you become automatically liable for the damages.

Why You Need a Georgia Commercial Truck Attorney

Both the Federal and state of Georgia commercial trucking rules, regulations, and laws can be complex, especially if your drivers don’t have commercial driver’s licenses (CDL).

If one of your CDL or non-CDL drivers are involved in an accident it’s important to have a skilled and knowledgeable commercial vehicle attorney on your side to guide you through the legal processes involved.

Your Georgia commercial trucking lawyer can thoroughly investigate the case, and be your strong advocate if the victim of the commercial truck accident files a claim for damages against your Georgia small business for damages.