Regulating Safety And Preventing Truck Accidents In NYC And New York State

New York State generally follows the semi-truck safety regulations issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for interstate commercial vehicles. There are separate rules for trucks that operate exclusively within New York. The purpose of these state and federal regulations is to ensure safety and prevent trucking accidents.

Rules designed to improve the safety of large trucks (defined as those with three or more axles) fall into several categories. Some of them pertain to driver training. Others regulate the number of hours that an operator can drive. Still others stipulate the frequency of inspections and the training required for inspectors.

Another section of the rules outlines the safety devices required by the FMCSA and State of New York for semi-trucks. This article will summarize the federal and state regulations that pertain to these devices and discuss the types of accidents the rules seek to prevent.

Safety Requirements For Trucks

The parts required by the federal government for safe operation are listed in the following categories:

  • Brakes
  • Lights
  • Windows
  • Fuel systems
  • Coupling devices and cables
  • Emergency equipment
  • Protection against shifting loads
  • Construction of the tractor and trailer

In addition, there are requirements for specific types of loads, such as logs, pipes, large boulders and hazardous chemicals. Finally, there is a category titled Miscellaneous that describes a wide range of requirements intended to improve truck safety.

The rules are quite specific. In the case of lights and reflectors, the rules describe where lights and reflectors are to be placed, the types of wiring or batteries required to operate the items, and their appearance. For example, lights and reflectors cannot mimic traffic signals or street lighting that could confuse other drivers, causing them to take actions that cause crashes.

The rules about brakes and braking systems are equally specific. Not only do they describe the types of brakes required, but they also stipulate the internal workings of truck braking systems, such as cables, linings, pads, reservoirs and warning systems. Such regulations are intended to prevent runaway trucks and trucks that cause accidents because they cannot stop in time to avoid a crash.

The section of the FMCSA regulations titled Miscellaneous details a variety of safety devices required by interstate trucks. These include specifications for tires, windshield defogging systems, windshield wipers, horns, rear-view mirrors and rear impact guards. The rear impact guard specs include the height of the guard and where it should be placed, how far around the trailer the guard may extend, and descriptions of the labels required.

Like many other federal truck regulations, rear guards that meet the current specifications are required on trucks manufactured after a certain date. In the case of override guards, the current specs apply to semi-trailers manufactured after January 1998. Older truck rear guards have different specifications.

Truck Crashes Resulting From Vehicular Defects

Despite the efforts of state and federal government to make the operation of large trucks as safe as possible, accidents that kill and injure continue to happen in New York with alarming frequency. In 2012, for example, New York City police investigated 1,643 truck accidents, 22 of them fatal. Another 1,048 truck accidents in the city that year caused significant personal injury.

The two most common vehicular issues in New York State truck accidents in 2012 were brake problems and tire failure. Not surprisingly, these issues are covered in great detail in the federal and state truck regulations. Oversize trucks were another significant cause of crashes. This is such a serious problem within New York City that the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued its own rules about the length and width of trucks permitted to operate within the city.

Reform Of Truck Safety Regulations

Mayor DeBlasio has stated that pedestrian safety in New York City will be a top focus of his term as mayor. As he and his team seek to accomplish their goal of zero pedestrian deaths, they may wish to require the use of rear wheel guards on semi-trailers in the city.

Used in many European countries, these wheel guards prevent pedestrians from being pulled under the trailer after being struck by the rear wheels. Because the back end of a turning tractor-trailer is usually at least seven feet closer to the curb than the front of the vehicle, pedestrians are often injured or killed when they assume that they can safely enter the street - because the front of the truck has passed them. What they do not anticipate is that the rear of the truck will be much closer to them, increasing the danger that they will be injured or killed. Wheel guards could address this issue effectively.

The FMCSA has come under fire for what some see as a relaxed approach to regulating truck and bus safety. Numerous fatal accidents in recent years have prompted Congress to authorize the agency to shut down interstate truck and bus companies with records of repeat safety violations. If both the mayor and the federal government are successful in their efforts to regulate the safety of trucks more aggressively, the number of serious and fatal truck accidents in New York City could drop significantly.