Alaska is known for its vast stretches of wilderness and rough terrain, and these unique features present risks for drivers, particularly those operating large commercial trucks. Consequently, these challenges can lead to truck accidents that result in severe injuries and property damage.
According to the Alaska FY2021 Highway Safety Plan Annual Report, the state had a 1.19 fatality rate per million vehicle miles traveled in 2020, and the number of deaths decreased to 64 from 67 in 2019. To continuously protect the safety of all individuals on Alaska's roads, laws have been developed to regulate commercial truck operations and the liability of those involved in truck accidents.
Alaska License to Drive Commercial Motor Vehicles
Drivers must pass written and skills tests assessing their knowledge and abilities in operating a commercial vehicle. The tests cover vehicle inspection, safe driving practices, and the transportation of hazardous materials.
In addition to passing these tests, drivers must meet certain eligibility requirements, including being at least 21 years old (or 18 for intrastate driving), holding a valid driver's license, and passing a medical examination to ensure they meet the physical requirements for operating a commercial motor vehicle.
Drivers holding a CDL must also comply with various federal and state regulations for operating a commercial vehicle. These include limits on hours of service, requirements for maintaining proper logs and documentation, and restrictions on the types of cargo that can be transported.
Failure to follow these regulations can result in serious consequences, such as license suspensions for at least 120 days, disqualification from driving a commercial vehicle, and even criminal charges for serious traffic violations resulting in fatal accidents.
Alaska Hours of Service Regulations
Alaska truck drivers are subject to federal hours of service regulations. These rules are designed to prevent fatigue-related accidents by limiting the number of hours a driver can operate a commercial vehicle within a specific timeframe. The requirements are the following:
Drivers are allowed to drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
Drivers are not allowed to drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty after 10 consecutive hours off.
Drivers are allowed to drive up to 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.
Drivers are required to take a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving.
In addition, Alaska follows the Passenger 80 Hour 8 Day rule for vehicles carrying passengers. This means a driver is not permitted to work over 80 hours for eight days in a row and cannot work over 20 hours after taking eight straight hours off.
These regulations apply to all commercial motor vehicle drivers operating in Alaska, regardless of the vehicle type or cargo they are carrying. Commercial drivers must also keep accurate records of their driving time, including their on-duty and off-duty periods, and submit these records to their employer for review.
If a commercial driver breaches these regulations, the amount of their fine may depend on the nature and severity of their violation. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) set the minimum fine for a first-time violation of the 11-hour driving limit at $1,000 and the maximum at $11,000.
Alaska Trucking Size and Weight Limits
Alaska enforces size and weight limits for commercial vehicles operating on its roads to ensure the public's safety and preserve the integrity of the state's roads and bridges. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) publishes a Weight Restriction Bulletin with detailed information about these limits, including the maximum allowable weight for various vehicle configurations and the weight restrictions that are in effect during specific times of the year.
The current bulletin shows that the maximum allowable weight for a single axle on Alaska's roads is 20,000 pounds, while the maximum for tandem axles is 38,000 pounds. Additionally, the maximum gross vehicle weight allowed on Alaska's roads for a five-axle TST is 80,000 pounds, and vehicles exceeding this must obtain an overweight permit from the DOT&PF. During the spring thaw period, there are seasonal weight restrictions for commercial vehicles on certain roads to protect the infrastructure from damage.
For vehicles that exceed the weight limit in the state, fines vary depending on the degree of overweight. For instance, if the weight ranges from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds over the limit, the penalty is a flat rate of $100. The fines for vehicles over the limit by more than 2,000 pounds increase based on the excess weight.
Alaska Regular Medical Examinations for Commercial Drivers
Commercial drivers in Alaska must undergo regular medical examinations to ensure they are fit to operate a commercial vehicle. These exams are designed to assess a driver's overall health and fitness and their ability to perform the duties required of their job.
According to FMCSA regulations, commercial drivers must undergo a medical examination at least once every two years. The exam must be performed by a licensed medical examiner certified by the FMCSA.
During the exam, the medical examiner will assess the driver's health and medical history and conduct a physical examination. It will include a vision test, a hearing test, and an assessment of the driver's blood pressure, heart rate, and overall physical fitness. The examiner will also review the driver's medications and any medical conditions that could impact their ability to drive safely.
If commercial drivers fail the medical exam, they may be disqualified from driving until they can demonstrate that they are medically fit to operate a commercial vehicle. This rule ensures that only safe and healthy drivers are on the road, lowering the risk of accidents and improving overall safety.
Alaska Traffic-Control Devices Law
The Traffic-Control Devices Law requires commercial motor vehicle drivers to comply with traffic-control devices, including signs, signals, and pavement markings.
They must be aware of and obey all traffic-control devices, including weight limits, height restrictions, and other size limitations on certain roads and bridges. Violating these can result in citations, fines, and potential liability for damages caused by overweight or oversized vehicles.
Additionally, drivers must comply with traffic-control devices related to speed limits, turning restrictions, and other traffic regulations.
Alaska Commercial Motor Vehicle Inspections Law
The Commercial Motor Vehicle Inspections Law outlines the rules and regulations that apply to commercial motor vehicles operating in Alaska to ensure the safety of the public and the environment. Periodic inspections are required for all vehicles under this classification to ensure they adhere to local, state, and federal laws. The evaluation of a vehicle's mechanical, structural, and safety aspects is part of the inspections, which must be carried out by licensed inspectors.
Commercial motor vehicles may also be subject to random inspections by state officials. They can be conducted at any time and include a review of the vehicle's records, equipment, and safety features.
Vehicles that transport hazardous materials are subject to more rules and inspections. Explosives, flammable liquids, radioactive materials, and poisonous gases are examples of substances that may be hazardous to human health or the environment due to their chemical or physical qualities.
Alaska Speeding Law
Alaska Administrative Code 13 AAC 03.275 establishes the basic rule and maximum speed limits for vehicles operating on Alaska roads, including commercial trucks and semi-trailers.
Commercial vehicle drivers must comply with the posted speed limits and other traffic control devices on the road. Additionally, they should be aware that maximum speed limits for commercial vehicles may vary based on the type of road.
For example, the maximum speed limit for commercial vehicles with a gross weight of over 10,000 pounds is 55 mph, while on an interstate highway, the maximum speed limit for such vehicles is 65 mph.
Drivers of commercial vehicles need to comply with these maximum limits to ensure the safe and efficient transportation of goods while minimizing the risk of truck accidents or other incidents on the road.
Violations of this regulation can result in penalties, such as up to $300 in fines, two to six points on the driver’s record, suspension or revocation of the driver's CDL, and potentially even criminal charges for severe violations.
Alaska Commercial Trucking Insurance Requirements
Commercial trucking is an essential industry in Alaska, supporting the state's economy by transporting goods across the state’s thoroughfares. It has set specific insurance requirements for commercial trucking companies to ensure adequate protection for their operations.
Trucking companies in Alaska must have minimum liability insurance, depending on what they're carrying and how heavy their trucks are. Trucks transporting hazardous materials must have a minimum insurance coverage of $1 million, while those carrying non-hazardous goods must have a minimum coverage of $750,000. Meanwhile, trucks that deliver radioactive materials, explosives, gases, or anything poisonous by inhalation must always carry a $5 million policy.
Trucking companies may also need extra insurance to protect their trucks, cargo, and employees. These include collision, physical damage, comprehensive, and underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage, as well as workers' compensation insurance. These types of coverage can provide additional protection in an accident.
Moreover, the FMCSA requires all commercial trucking companies to register for a USDOT number and maintain specific insurance requirements for interstate commerce. Alaska's state regulations also apply to intrastate operations, and commercial trucking companies must comply with state and federal requirements.
Failure to maintain the minimum insurance requirements can result in the suspension or revocation of a commercial trucking company's operating authority for up to three years.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Truck Accident in Alaska
Truck accidents can result in severe injuries, property damage, and financial losses. Suppose someone is injured or suffers damage in a truck accident in Alaska. They may file a personal injury lawsuit against the truck driver, the trucking company, or other parties responsible for the accident.
The damages that a person can recover in a truck accident lawsuit include economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage, while non-economic damages include pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.
The state has no cap on economic damages, which means that a person can recover the full amount of their financial losses resulting from the accident. However, the cap on non-economic damages is currently set at $400,000, which is $1,000,000 for severe disfigurement or impairment.
Alaska Statute of Limitations for Trucking Accidents
The statute of limitations for personal injury claims in Alaska arising from a truck accident is two years from the date of the accident. This means a person injured in a truck accident in Alaska must file a lawsuit within two years of the date of the accident, or they may lose their right to seek compensation for their injuries.
In cases where the crash results in the death of a person, the statute of limitations is also two years from the date of death.
There are instances in which the statute of limitations can be tolled or extended, like if the injured party is a minor or the defendant leaves the state after the accident. However, it’s always best to consult an experienced personal injury attorney to determine the applicable statute of limitations in a specific case.
Alaska Is a Fault State for Insurance Claims
Alaska is a fault state for insurance claims, which means that drivers involved in an accident are responsible for covering the damages they caused, such as the victim's medical expenses and damage to property.
Individuals who sustained injuries due to trucking accidents have three options to pursue compensation. First, they can file a claim with their insurance company if their policy covers the loss. Their insurance company may then pursue a lawsuit against the at-fault driver's insurance company. The second option is to file a third-party claim directly with the at-fault driver's insurance company. As a third option, truck accident victims can file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver in civil court.
Under Alaska law, a driver at fault for an accident may be liable for damages, including property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. The amount of damages awarded to the injured party will depend on the extent of their injuries and the severity of the accident.
Alaska Is a Pure Comparative Fault State for Trucking Accident Lawsuits
Alaska is a pure comparative fault state, where a plaintiff can recover damages even if found to be partially at fault for the accident, as long as their percentage of fault is less than 100%. For example, if the plaintiff was texting while driving and the truck driver was speeding, both parties may be assigned a percentage of fault.
In line with this, the damages awarded to the plaintiff can be reduced based on the percentage of their responsibility, according to Alaska Statutes Sec. 09.17.060. If they are found to be 25% at fault for the accident, their damages award will be reduced by 25%.
Because the law allows for joint and several liabilities, multiple parties can be responsible for paying damages. For instance, if the truck driver and the other motorist are found to be 50% at fault for the accident, they can each be held liable for 50% of the total damages.
Average Settlement for Alaska Trucking Accident Lawsuits
Determining the average settlement for trucking accident lawsuits in Alaska can be difficult, as settlements can vary widely based on several factors, such as the accident's severity, the extent of the injuries, and the level of fault assigned to each party. However, we can examine some settlements in Alaska to understand the range of possible outcomes.
In one case, a man was awarded $1.25 million in damages in a lawsuit against a trucking company and a driver. The man had suffered injuries in a trucking accident that occurred when the driver failed to yield at an intersection. The jury found the trucking company 80% at fault and the driver 20% at fault for the accident.
While this is a notable example, it's important to remember that every case is unique, and settlements can vary widely based on individual circumstances. If you are involved in a trucking accident in Alaska, an experienced attorney can help evaluate the evidence and advise on the best course of action to receive maximum compensation.
Legal Resources for Alaska Trucking Accident Victims
The Lawyer Referral Service (LRS) is a valuable resource that connects truck accident victims with experienced and qualified attorneys who can provide legal representation and advice. The Alaska Bar Association operates this statewide service designed to make it easy for individuals to find a lawyer to help them with their legal matters. Residents can contact the LRS via email, phone at 907-272-0352, or the toll-free number 1-800-770-9999.
The Alaska Trucker Guide by the Alaska Department of Transportation is a vital resource that provides comprehensive information about Alaska's vehicle regulations, including size and weight limits, hours of service, and other essential rules that drivers and companies must follow.
The DOT&PF created the commercial vehicle customer service center, a permit program for trucking companies and drivers that provides information about the permit process, permit requirements, and other important rules and regulations that must be followed.
The Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles regulates CDLs, which are specialized licenses that allow drivers to operate commercial vehicles like tractor-trailers, buses, and tanker trucks. The CDL Manual is a comprehensive guide with detailed information about the requirements for obtaining a CDL, including the knowledge and skills necessary to operate a commercial vehicle on Alaska's roads safely. It covers various topics, such as vehicle inspection, shifting gears, handling hazardous materials, and driving in different weather conditions.
This Alaska Vehicle and Traffic Offenses Booklet by the Alaska Court System provides information about the laws and regulations related to vehicle and traffic offenses in Alaska, including speeding, DUI, reckless driving, and other traffic violations. It is a useful resource for anyone who wants to learn more about traffic laws and their rights and responsibilities as a driver in Alaska. It also includes information on the consequences of traffic offenses, such as fines, license suspension or revocation, and possible jail time.
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