Trucking is the most common way of transporting products in Alabama. In 2018, trucks moved over 264 million tons of cargo throughout the state. Foreign shipments totaling 22.5 million tons were also accounted for. This equates to around $295 billion in domestic and $28.7 billion in long overseas shipments.
About 11,900 trucking companies currently operate in the Yellowhammer State, most of which are locally owned. These companies likewise provide employment to the people in the area.
But Alabama is also one of the states with the highest number of fatal truck accidents. In 2020 alone, it recorded 130 deaths in truck-related accidents. According to the Department of Transportation, the state route has the most truck accidents, listing 1,625 crashes and 46 casualties. This is followed by the interstate route (2,458 crashes and 33 casualties) and the US route (1,320 crashes and 28 casualties).
To avoid further accidents, Alabama has put some rules and laws in place to make its highways as safe as possible for residents and truck owners. These rules are continuously updated as necessary.
Commercial Vehicle Weight and Size Limits in Alabama
These provisions in state truck regulations exceed federal requirements:
According to the state bridge formula, the permitted weight is 36,000 lbs. for tandem axles on interstate highways, 42,000 lbs for the tridem axle, and 84,000 lbs. for a truck-semitrailer combo with six axles.
The state allows a 10% weight tolerance on non-interstate roadways and exempts trucks hauling specific goods from state weight limits.
The following is a summary of Alabama's truck weight limitations for vehicles in regular use:
The allowable weight is 20,000 lbs. for a single axle; 34,000 lbs. for tandem axles on interstate highways; 36,000 lbs. for tandem axles on non-interstate highways; and 42,000 lbs. for tridem axle.
Vehicles with six or more axles are limited to 84,000 lbs. on non-interstate highways and 80,000 lbs. on interstate highways.
There is also a 10% enforcement tolerance on non-interstate routes.
Alabama Commercial Driver’s License Act
Alabama adheres to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act. The state requires drivers to have a commercial driver’s license to operate a vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds or carrying more than 16 passengers or hazardous materials.
Commercial Driver License Application in Alabama
The minimum age required to apply for a commercial driver’s license in Alabama is 18. Successful applicants may be issued a Class A license that will allow them to operate commercial vehicles throughout the state. Interstate driving, on the other hand, requires a minimum age of 21.
Alabama has three CDL types:
Class A: Allows drivers to operate towing vehicles with a gross combined weight of over 26,000 pounds, with a towed vehicle having a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds.
Class B: Allows drivers to operate single or combination vehicles having a GVWR of more than 26,000 pounds with a towed vehicle weighing less than 10,000 pounds.
Class C: Allows drivers to operate vehicles transporting 16 or more people or hazardous materials.
There are several steps a driver must accomplish before obtaining a CDL. First, they must acquire a commercial learner’s permit and then complete entry-level driver training. After that, they must pass the knowledge and skill tests mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a federal government agency in charge of commercial vehicle safety. In addition, the applicant must meet the standards outlined in Alabama’s license and registration code.
Exemptions from the skill exam are offered to drivers with at least two years of experience operating heavy military vehicles. They may apply by completing a skill test waiver form.
Medical Qualifications for Alabama Commercial Drivers
Another requirement of the FMCSA is a medical certificate. Applicants should ask their physician to fill out the medical examination report. They must also complete the self-certification affidavit. Once done, they may send the documents to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency at (334) 353-1980 or submit them directly to ALEA.
Disqualification from Driving Commercial Motor Vehicles
A commercial driver's license may be disqualified following a series of infractions. Some of these include driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident, using a motor vehicle for a felony, or refusing to take an alcohol test.
A single offense can lead to a one-year license suspension. However, if the violation happens while transporting labeled cargo under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, the disqualification lasts at least three years.
A conviction for two or more offenses might lead to lifelong disqualification.
Alabama’s Hours of Service Regulations
Alabama follows the FMCSA’s federal regulations regarding hours of service for commercial drivers.
To provide greater flexibility to drivers without compromising safety, the FMCSA made some adjustments to the rules. The revisions were finalized on September 29, 2020, introducing four key changes:
1. Short-Haul Exception
Drivers transporting passengers or properties are allowed to exceed a maximum driving time of 14 hours, but they are required to:
Operate within a 150-air-mile radius and start or end their duty in the same reporting spot
Not have driven for more than 12 continuous hours
Follow the interruption of driving time rule, which states that they must take 30-minute breaks every eight hours of continuous driving.
Take a 10-hour break after 14 hours of continuous driving
Drivers under the short-haul exception are not required to keep a record of their status, or
RODS, in a graph grid according to the driver’s record of duty status law. However, they must still keep a time record.
2. Adverse Driving Condition Exception
In the event of unfavorable driving conditions, such as heavy rain or snow, strong gusts, or other events drivers are unaware of or cannot predict, this exception allows drivers to extend their working day and driving time by up to two hours. However, the driver must:
Comply with the rest or break regulations.
Record the difficult driving circumstances they encountered in the driver's log.
3. 30-Minute Break Requirement
After eight hours of driving without a 30-minute break, a driver is required to take a 30-minute break. The driver can take a break in the sleeping berth, go off-duty, or stay on duty without driving. A combination of any of the three is also allowed. Under this rule, yard moves and roadside inspections can count as on-duty, not driving.
4. Sleeper Berth Provision
This rule allows drivers to split the 10-hour off-duty period, provided that:
One off-duty period is at least two hours or more.
Seven hours or more are spent in the sleeper berth.
When used as a combination, the periods add up to 10 hours.
Driving Safety in Alabama
Alabama aims to achieve zero deaths caused by traffic accidents in the next 25 years. Thus, the government created Drive Safe Alabama, an online resource hub that provides information on how to help keep state roadways safe.
Other legislation relevant to traffic safety in Alabama, particularly for commercial vehicles, is outlined below.
Driving Under the Influence in Alabama
Statistics from the state’s 2020 Crash Facts report showed 123 incidents of truck accidents caused by driving under the influence. To prevent further crashes, Alabama implements DUI laws prohibiting people from driving a commercial vehicle if their blood concentration level is 0.04 or higher.
Offenders may face up to a year in prison, fines ranging from $600 to $10,100, license suspension for up to three years, and the installation of an ignition interlock device on their vehicle for six months to three years.
If a motorist commits additional non-commercial driving infractions, the fines will be evaluated separately. In addition, penalties for non-commercial driving infractions will be carried by the regular driver's license.
Commercial Vehicle Safety Inspections in Alabama
Commercial vehicles in Alabama must follow federal regulations to undergo a periodic inspection at least once a year and meet the minimum periodic inspection standards. The inspection is done by government personnel at a state-authorized facility or an equivalent jurisdiction in Canada, Yukon Territory, or Mexico.
The motor carrier provider may also conduct their own inspections under the supervision of a state-approved self-inspection program. If the carrier fails to perform the annual inspection properly, it may be penalized under Title 49 of the Federal Code.
Transportation of Hazardous Materials in Alabama
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management requires waste and oil transporters to register unless they are transporting through rail, in which case a permit is not required.
An ADEM Form 137 must be submitted 180 days before the anticipated transportation date of hazardous wastes and used oil. Once approved, the permit will be valid for three years from the date of issuance. Applications for renewals can be made 180 days before expiration.
Transporters must have a manifest before accepting waste from either small or large generators. A contingency plan that outlines procedures in case of emergencies, like spills, must be in place, as well as adequate financial security to cover future environmental risks and liabilities. Drivers must keep a copy of this in the transporting vehicle.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Truck Accident in Alabama?
The amount of compensation in an Alabama truck accident varies from person to person based on the circumstances of the accident.
Alabama has no restrictions on both economic and non-economic compensatory damages. Therefore, victims may seek as much compensation as they believe justifiable for their medical expenses, lost wages, property damages, and pain and suffering.
The state, however, puts a cap on punitive damages. According to Alabama’s laws:
Punitive damages should not exceed three times the amount claimed for compensatory losses, or $500,000, whichever is greater.
If the defendant is a small business, punitive damages should not exceed $50,000 or 10% of the defendant's net value, whichever is greater.
Incidents involving physical injury are subject to three times the compensatory damages of the party demanding payments, or $1,500,000, whichever is greater.
If you are attempting to recover damages from government entities, the maximum amount you can receive is $100,000 for a single injury or death claim, $300,000 for more than two deaths or damages, and $100,000 for property damage from an accident.
Alabama Statute of Limitations for Truck Accidents
The general statute of limitations in Alabama for truck accidents is two years from when they happened. However, there may be some exceptions:
When injuries, or even property damage, remain undetected for some time after the accident or when some facts are withheld from complainants to discourage them from pursuing their case, the discovery rule can take effect. In such cases, the two-year statute of limitations will only begin after the injury is discovered.
If the complainant is a minor under the age of 19 or is mentally unfit, legal actions in Alabama may be postponed until the person reaches 19 or is mentally fit to exercise his or her rights. However, regardless of the complainant's mental state, a defense cannot be filed after 20 years.
Claims against the government or municipalities have shorter statutes of limitations. An individual will only be given six months from the incident date to file a claim.
Under the respondeat superior doctrine, legal action must be taken within two years of the accident. This means trucking employees have two years from the accident date to sue their employer if they believe the latter was at fault.
Alabama Is an At-Fault State for Insurance Claims
Alabama is a tort-based state. This means the person who caused the truck accident is responsible for recovering damages. This could be done through third-party insurance claims, claims with your own company, or a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party.
Minimum Liability Insurance Requirements in Alabama
Every motorist in the state, including truck drivers, is required to carry minimum liability insurance pursuant to the Alabama Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance Law. Alabama follows the 25/50/25 limitations:
$25,000 for bodily injury or death of one person in an accident
$50,000 for bodily injury or death of two or more persons in an accident
$25,000 for property damage
This will only cover damages the policyholder caused to others, not the ones they sustained themselves.
Penalties for Driving without Trucking Insurance
Non-compliance with this rule can result in a license suspension. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency will also issue fines ranging from $500 to $1,000.
Alabama Is a Contributory Negligence State for Trucking Accident Lawsuits
Alabama is one of four states that adhere to the rule of contributory negligence.
According to this law, a plaintiff is not entitled to any compensation if it can be proven that they contributed to the accident by at least 1%.
For example, an intoxicated driver swerved into the path of another driver who was not wearing a seatbelt. Following the contributory negligence rule, Alabama will not grant compensation to the latter since his negligence in not wearing a seatbelt contributed to the severity of his injuries.
Proving Fault in an Alabama Truck Accident Case
There are four components in a negligence case that help establish the prima facie or assumption of fault:
Determining if the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty
Determining if the defendant breached that responsibility
Determining if the plaintiff suffered an injury
Determining if the defendant’s breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries
These elements are considered when deciding who is at fault in a truck accident case in Alabama.
Legal Resources for Alabama Trucking Accident Victims
The legal system in Alabama has a wide range of notable resources to support individuals seeking information and legal assistance. These resources come from government agencies and non-profit organizations, such as:
ALDOT is the state government department in charge of Alabama's infrastructure planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance. It puts policies, initiatives, and guidelines for highways, bridges, and other public buildings into action. ALDOT also works with its local and federal counterparts to keep transportation safe and organized. The ALDOT website provides important information about commercial vehicles.
This professional association for Alabama lawyers supports the professional growth of its members and implements the state's legal ethics requirements. The Alabama State Bar Association keeps a roster of approximately 19,000 registered attorneys, conducts the bar exam, and offers continuing education opportunities while advocating for legal reforms.
ATA is a non-profit association that represents the Alabama trucking sector. It seeks to improve laws while also providing members with necessary resources and services. It collaborates with government authorities, law enforcement agencies, and other non-profits to address the trucking industry's concerns.
Act 2013-67 established the state-level law enforcement body, ALEA. Several agencies were unified under this act to help simplify law enforcement and increase coordination among local government organizations. ALEA serves the community through its two divisions: the Department of Public Safety and the State Bureau of Investigations.
FMCSA, a division of the USDOT, oversees the safety of commercial motor vehicles and their drivers. It aims to limit the frequency of car accidents, injuries, and deaths involving heavy trucks and buses. The administration also maintains a database of records for drivers and vehicles.
As a non-profit organization, Alabama Legal Help offers low-income individuals and families free legal services and support. These include providing access to self-help resources, giving free legal advice, or representing Alabamans in court, if necessary.
The state-level law enforcement agency, Alabama State Troopers, helps implement traffic rules, investigates accidents, provides highway assistance, and keeps the community secure.
ALDOI oversees the insurance industry in Alabama. It ensures that companies and businesses follow the law. One of its objectives is to make affordable insurance accessible to all. The Department is also responsible for licensing and regulating insurance companies, brokers, and agents.
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